Feb. 11, 2019

I am a totally blind mother of 2 little boys. I wanted to tell you about a group that I have recently come to love here in Charlotte and how the members are helping to change the lives of many visually impaired persons in the Charlotte area.

Para Guide is a group of athletes who get together to guide visually impaired and blind people who want to run and do other physical activity. They donate their time to be the eyes for people like me, who would like to do physical activity outdoors, but can't because we can't see. I met up with them because I wanted to run. When running, we are paired side by side with each of us holding onto a tether with a loop on each end that we each hold. My guide speaks verbal directions to me while we are moving so I know which way we are turning, if we are going uphill or down a hill, and if there are obstacles in the way that we need to avoid. 

I had never thought about running before. I have a dog guide and I do walk a lot, but running? No!  Last fall I saw a facebook post from the Para Guide group. They were looking for blind people interested in training with them to run an upcoming Veterans Day Charlotte marathon, 1/2 marathon and 5K race. I thought Hmmmm and I contacted the group. I was contacted by a great lady named Shannon and she agreed to meet me at the greenway in Matthews where we tethered together and I walk/ran 3 miles. It was great fun and that day I decided I would like to run my first 5K. So I started training. 

A good friend of mine, Kimberly, who is fully sighted, happen to see the same Para Guide post on Facebook. Not thinking I would really be interested, she asked me if we could tether together and run the 5K together. I said yes and so we started training and we did tether together to race the Charlotte Marathon 5K  back in November 2017. 

Both Shannon and Kimberly are much better runners than me. I started out walking/running, but I was able to complete my first 5K in 40 minutes. I was pretty proud of that. We are still running, 2, 3 sometimes 4 times a week here in Matthews at the 4 Mile Creek Greenway and around the neighborhood. We bundle up and run when it is cold. We are just a group of moms running side by side, laughing talking about our kidds and having a good time. Just recently, Kimberly guided me in my 2nd official 5K, the BBNT Corporate Cup and I am so proud to say that I beat my first 5K time by nearly 3 minutes, coming in at 37:14. 

Para Guide is growing by leaps and bounds with both blind runners and guides eager to learn to guide us. Guides and blind people come from all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds. We all just want to complete goals and have fun. My husband Jason, who is also blind runs with his  guide, Lance. Both are avid runners and together they recently ran the Charlotte HalfMarathon in 1:47. Not all of us use the tether method. My husband and his guide, well, they just use an old worn out dish towel! 

Para Guide not only runs. This group also cycles and swims. Using Tandem bikes, the guides pilot the bikes while we help pedal. Cyclists ride for miles and miles. Kimberly and I are working toward riding tandem for a women’s triathlon later this year. (Update:  Julie and Kimberly completed the Ramblin’ Rose Triathlon in May of 2018!).

Shannon swims tandem with some very skilled blind swimmers. Dana is a para Guide that works with blind veterans. She recently challenged a group of them to tether with a guide for this past weekends BBnT Corporate cup 5K. Several of the veterans raced with the oldest being 72. There are always new folks interested in guiding, or a new blind person eager to tether up!

For the blind, fitness is often not a priority. when you can't see, activities such as walking/running, bike-riding, swimming and many other outdoor activities are off limits to us without guides. Para Guide makes these things possible for those of us who are willing to take a step of faith and hold on to the tether attached to  another person. I just think that with so much bad stuff that happens in the world today, that there are still so many good people like the Para Guides who are willing to give up their time so a person like myself can accomplish goals that may have seemed impossible.