In 2005 I lost my sight following a brain haemorrhage and four strokes. Afterwards I put on a huge amount of weight.
I had always been active and enjoyed swimming, badminton and table-tennis, but sport of any kind seemed no longer an option. I have Ted my guide dog but I am single and have little family.
In 2013 I was guided on a sprint triathlon that I really enjoyed, so I contacted British Triathlon looking for a way to take part in sport again. They put me in touch with a wonderful women called Roz McGinty. Roz had not had any training as a guide so we just went for a few runs together along a path near my house to get used to running together.
In November 2014 Roz guided me at my first parkrun, at St Albans. When I crossed the finish line I remember being really pleased that I had been able to complete the course and I wanted to do another one. Unfortunately St Albans is a 30 minute drive from where I live, so attending every week just wasn’t practical.
Luckily, a few months later, South Oxhey parkrun started within walking distance of my home. Since my first run there on 14 February 2015, I have either run or volunteered almost every Saturday.
Today I completed my 100th parkrun, something that I couldn’t have imagined being possible back in November 2014 when Roz guided me on my first one.
Since my first South Oxhey parkrun I have only missed parkrun twice. Once was on a very cold November day when Roz and I took part in the Commando Obstacle Race at Hever Castle, and the other time was earlier this month when a virus got the better of me.
Lesley Keddy, one of the Run Directors and Ricky Running Sisters (a local running club of which I am now a member) coordinates a list of volunteers, some from our club and some parkrunners and members of other running clubs, who guide me. Lesley also tries to find someone willing to look after my guide dog Ted, as I can only run if somebody will hold him. Guides are often just as nervous as me, maybe even more so when we first run together, but with good communication it all runs smoothly – quite literally!
I have also volunteered on 15 occasions as a course marshal, barcode scanner and as tail runner with the help of my VI guide. I really enjoy scanning because it’s a great way to meet people. When parkrunners approach me to hand me their barcode and finishing token I ask for them in the correct order, barcode then finishing token. It works really well and means I get the chance to chat to people and learn their names as well as scanning.
The atmosphere at parkrun is fantastic and I love being with other people who are running and encouraging each other. I enjoy meeting people who have similar interests and am making new friends. Not being able to see where I am is a bit unnerving sometimes but the enjoyment of running is so much greater than the nerves. I rely on sound – listening to the directions from my guide and feeling what I can through the tether or contact – and I only know who the runners or volunteers are when they tell me.
I run because it makes me feel physically and mentally stronger and is helping me lose weight. I have arthritis which doesn’t hurt as much if I exercise. I am asthmatic so running helps me control my breathing. I have depression which sometimes gets really bad, but running helps me.
parkrun has become an enormous part of my life and I miss it when I can’t go. It is my main training opportunity, enabling me to stay active enough to take part in the occasional triathlon. I now have guides who have become friends and help me in the other two triathlon disciplines. I am also now training with Evelyn, one of my parkrun guides and friends, as I have a place in this year’s Ride London. I would love to step up to an Olympic distance triathlon, and plan to run a marathon one day. parkrun has a huge part to play in achieving those goals.
When I started to get involved with parkrun I had no idea that it would change my life in so many positive ways. Through parkrun I have had the opportunity to speak to other VI people at Sight Village events about physical activity and the benefits it has, and a number of those people have now been introduced to parkrun. I spoke at the parkrun Ambassador Conference last year alongside some other VI parkrunners, and I help to inform some of the work that parkrun is undertaking as part of its VI Project. There’s no doubt that parkrun will become even more accessible to VI runners, joggers, walkers and volunteers over the coming years, and this is truly exciting.
My advice to every visually impaired person who wants to try running is three simple words – do a parkrun! If you don’t have anyone to guide you, ask your local parkrun if someone is in a position to help. Running helps physically and mentally, it increases confidence and through it you will make some wonderful friends.
parkrun has given me so much, I really can’t recommend it highly enough. parkrun changes lives!
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It was wonderful to see another record attendance last weekend, with 27,500 participants across 218 events, in 5 countries. And, of course, we would particularly like to welcome the 1,640 first timers who walked, jogged, ran or volunteered with us for the very first time. Whilst it’s sometimes easy to get bogged down in…