ROYAL OAK — Going for a jog may be a daily choice for many people, but for others, it’s a potentially dangerous team effort.
For the visually impaired, avoiding anything from traffic to sidewalk divots and tree branches, as well as running on a curving path, are all major obstacles. On Oct. 7, Royal Oak resident Brian Lane, 31, was a guide runner for a blind man at the third annual Woodrow Wilson Bridge Run Half Marathon in Alexandria, Va.
“My biggest fear going into this was that I’d get a runner who was faster than me,” said Lane, co-owner of Bingo Pet Salon and founder of FiftyTwo4Mom, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness for visual impairments through participation in national runs. “If you slow down, you’re slowing them down. They’re dependant on you.”
Lane was paired with Vietnam veteran and Cherokee native Thomas Monroe, from Colorado, who has a pace a few minutes slower per mile than Lane.
“He lost his sight in the war. I’ll meet him Friday,” Lane said Oct. 2, noting that visually impaired runners are sometimes tethered to their guides, but can also opt to simply be verbally directed. “(Until) I get there, I really don’t know what his preference is. He’s also run all over the country with his tribe and POWs.”
To give himself a taste of how blind people live, Lane spent 30 days in March wearing three different sets of goggles in 10-day increments. The three sets of goggles reduced his vision to tunnel vision, no central vision and complete blindness, the latter of which he removed to drive and work. He said the tunnel vision, which his mother has spent the past 14 years dealing with after a head trauma, was the most shocking.
“Within the first six hours, I actually called my mom in tears,” Lane said, noting he expected it to simply cut off his peripheral vision like horse blinders would. “It’s basically like looking through straws. It was a really good experience learning what she’s gone through for the past 14 years. It was a humbling experience.”
As part of that experience, Lane ran the Corktown 5k March 11 throughout the Corktown district of Detroit.
A former cross country runner at Waterford Kettering High School, Lane is also already planning on being a guide runner for a female runner during an upcoming December race in Sacramento.
Steve Nearman, race director for Woodrow Wilson Bridge Run Half Marathon, said guide runners like Lane are vital to the success of races for the visually impaired.
There are only a handful of such races around the country, usually as part of a larger event for those with full vision, but Nearman said his young race is considered the national championships for the visually impaired. From three runners in 2010, the race had 11 last year and was set to have 18 or more visually impaired runners last weekend.
“I thought this was an important thing to have for the visually impaired community,” Nearman said. “There aren’t many, but their needs are a lot greater. It’s good to have a few extra sets of eyes, no pun intended. There just isn’t a preponderance of (visually) impaired people who can run a half marathon.
“This was a major exception. It was a very special thing for us to have a Vietnam veteran and wounded warrior.”
The visually impaired race normally begins about 15 minutes before the regular race, meaning several of the runners with full vision will come across the partially or completely blind runners and their guides.
“It’s extremely inspiring to a lot of people in the race,” Nearman said. “The goal is to have 100 visually impaired people at the starting line.”
He said he would eventually like to combine his Virginia race with others of varying lengths in California, Colorado and Texas to form a larger running series for visually impaired runners.
“I would love to have a four-race grand prix where there’s a point system and prize money at the end. And we’d share runners,” Nearman said. “I think it’ll be a lot of fun. People could look at our website and track it.”
For more information on the race or Lane’s group, visit www.wilsonbridgehalf.com or fiftytwo4mom.org.
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