An adventure by: Sablle Scheppmann, Regional Sales Manager, West
Let me start by saying it has taken me a long time to even get this blog started because of my fear that I won’t do my first experience as a Sighted Guide justice. I don’t think I could write anything that will truly emulate how impactful guiding was for me. That and I’m in Sales for Nathan, lets be honest writing is not my strong suit… ask my marketing team who has to edit this thing! The main point of this is more guides are always needed for training runs and races, you can learn more and sign up to be a guide at unitedinstride.com! (Or check out some other resources at the end of this blog).
Cover pic: Jayson Robidoux, Sablle Scheppmann, Kyle Robidoux and Eric Schranz.
Here is the story of my first guiding experience...
I have been running for as long as I can remember- growing up, throughout high school, running competitively at a DII university but I truly found my love for running after college. Up until I graduated college, I was running to please a lot of people. Everyone except for myself. I could never truly smile and tell you I loved running. In the simplest explanation, I found my love for running when I was able to go out on a run and zone out. Instead of struggling to breathe, thinking about my next split or the girl that’s on my heels, I could now run free for hours and think about anything I wanted or sometimes nothing at all. Trail running showed me what it meant to truly love the sport of running.
So, what does this have to do with my experience as a sighted guide? Guiding for the first time in my life felt like I was running not just for myself. I was at the start line of California International Marathon to help another athlete reach his goals. The beauty of the entire experience is that it's a two way street. I think my VI (Visually Impaired) athlete, Kyle Robidoux, did more for me in those 13 miles we shared, than I did for him just sharing my sight. Its a very powerful thing running to help someone reach their goals and I’ve paced before but its just not the same. So, lets start from the beginning and how I got to the start line of CIM.
I was inspired to be a guide by our Marketing Specialist and as I like to call her our NATHAN resident ultrarunning renegade Maggie Guterl. Maggie guided for a VI runner in Philly, named Kinzey Lynch. They met through Achilles International, the Philadelphia Chapter. She would tell me hilarious and inspiring stories about her guiding experiences. Maggie has also guided Kyle at the Vermont 100 as he became the second VI runner to complete a 100 mile ultra. Our Team NATHAN athlete, who is also sponsored by Topo, posted on our Team Nathan Athlete FaceBook page asking if anyone was available to guide a VI runner looking to hit a 2:27 marathon. First off, of course I would LOVE to say I can guide someone at that pace but I wouldn’t make it past mile 1. I did, however, jump at the opportunity to throw my name in the pot if there was a VI runner in need that aligns with my pace. Thankfully there was but first I needed a few training runs under my belt. This is how come to meet a local VI runner named Corvin.
Admittedly, I was a bit nervous to run with Corvin. It was my first time guiding and I didn’t know what to expect outside of Maggie's affirmations of, “you will do great!” Upon meeting Corvin, want to guess at the first thing that came out of my mouth? I said… drum roll please… “Where did you park?” Yes, WHERE DID YOU PARK! I asked a VI runner where he parked. Thankfully, one thing I learned out of this entire experience is every VI runner I met has the BEST sense of humor and they always have me laughing. Corvin was so light hearted and casually laughed if off saying “uhhh, I was dropped off.” So as you can see, I was off to a great start!
Corvin was a great coach, he taught me how to use a tether and helped me understand that it was truly up to me to GUIDE, DIRECT and use my voice to help him have his best run. Wait! Wait! Let's back up! I’m sure you’re wondering what a tether is, I didn’t know either. A tether is any sort of string, shoe lace or strap that has a loop on each end, the sighted guide holds one end and the VI runner holds the other end. It really depends on the runner but you create tension when you need to help them go left or right and often push their forearm if it’s a really tight turn. I went into this thinking that telling someone what to do should be easy for me! Wrong. I was nervous to call out things at first. Was he going to think I was talking too much? Was I too descriptive or not descriptive enough? What if I miss a crack? What if he trips and falls? So many different variables in play but any VI runner will help instill confidence as you go. Corvin and Kyle both taught me that at the end of the day, if any of those things happen I need to keep going and keep my VI athlete moving. If I dwell on every mistake and every misstep it will slow them down and limit their confidence in me to guide them to the finish. My training runs with Corvin would prepare me to guide Kyle through the first half of the California International Marathon. I should add that I was not originally signed up to guide Kyle. I had signed on with a another athlete who could not start the race. It turned out that Jayson Robidoux, Kyle's brother, was having achilles issues so I signed on to be Kyle's support guide. All my guide practice would not go to waste. Everything happens for a reason. More on that later.
The CIM is actually the championship race for the United States Association of Blind Athletes. Therefore the night before the race they celebrate with an amazing dinner and guest speakers. Marla Runyon, a Paralympic champion and the first legally blind runner to compete in the Olympics was the guest speaker with an incredible story. One comment she made that struck me (I can’t remember her words exactly) had to do with sighted runners saying to VI runners they are “inspiring.” As a sighted runner I thought, well of course- it is so inspiring! From a sighted runners perspective we don’t know what it feels like to not have our sight and the thought of doing something without it seems impossible which is why I think instantly sighted runners think of the word “inspiring.” BUT hearing her say this made me think a lot deeper about it so I asked Kyle to take a quick moment to really educate me and everyone reading on this topic. To help us understand here is what Kyle had to say:
“As runners who are Blind/VI, we are often told (either during the race or pre-post) that we are “inspiring.” This is based on the person not really knowing us. All they see is that we are blind and running. I want to set the bar higher and continue to work toward a place in which it is normal to see individuals of all abilities out running and being active. I accept and embrace the fact that I am raising awareness by simply being out there but at times I do not want my vision loss to be someone else’s inspiration. Be inspired by what I am doing (part of the reason why I run ultras because it pushed the boundaries for all runners) and not necessarily because I am doing it as someone who is visually impaired”
I’m glad I asked because I feel like I understand a B/VI runners perspective so much more!
Ok! Back to the experience of guiding... I met so many rad people at the dinner and that trend continued into the next morning at the start line. CIM gives the B/VI runners the choice to either start 5 minutes before the field of runners or in the standard corral they are assigned. Kyle choose to start in his corral with the entire field of runners. Naturally, I had pre-race nerves. What if I get tired? How do I get him around everyone? What do I do when runners have headphones in and can’t hear me? I thought of everything under the sun but the fact is, it ALWAYS works out with the help of your VI runner.
Since I was the support guide, Kyle’s brother Jayson started with the tether and I ran on the other side of Kyle. At the beginning of the race I would tap those with headphones kindly on the shoulder as we slid passed and Kyle helped me understand instead of shouting “BLIND RUNNER COMING!” I should kindly say “Blind runner passing on your left.” This way the runner would know which way to slide and see you coming instead of being confused where they should move. At one point, Jayson had to use the bathroom so I confidently took the tether, having learned a lot from listening to Jayson guide for the first few miles. Ummm… DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY MANHOLES THERE ARE IN SACRAMENTO!? Its an absurd amount and you only realize this when you have to call them out. Every time I said aloud, “Manhole in 3,2,1,” Kyle flawlessly stepped over every single one! Many times, because of how in tune he was with his senses and the road,I would question if he really was visually impaired. It was unreal to see how well he navigated obstacles. I was just blown away! Talk about senses, I would say to “Hey, a fellow USABA Athlete!” Kyle would yell “Hey! Hows it going!” and the VI runner would recognize his voice and instantly say “Hi Kyle!” and vice versa. Kyle knew every single VI runner out there instantly by their voice.
As time passed, Jayson eventually grew tired and I became the lead guide. This is the “everything happens for a reason” part of the story because if Kyle never posted on Facebook, if my runner didn’t drop out then I wouldn’t have been there to continue on with Kyle. I am confident Jayson could have pushed on through with Kyle but because I was there he didn't have to! I am thankful Jayson started out with us because I learned a lot from watching him guide. I picked up on the small nuances like saying “take two steps to your left.” Another trick I learned is guiding Kyle onto the line on the road so he can follow it. You are probably thinking what I was thinking at the time. How can he follow the line if he is blind?
Kyle is legally blind and has extreme tunnel vision with 3-4% field of vision. To put this into perspective, it is similar to looking through a toilet paper roll and although his daughter would argue that it’s a gross example, its definitely relevant! Like most VI runners, Kyle cannot see at all in the dark and dimly lit situations so he couldn’t see anything at the pre-dawn start line of the CIM. Even when it is light outside, Kyle can see very little contrast so calling out those pesky manholes, a crack or rock is imperative! Speaking of the cracks and potholes, one thing I wasn’t expecting but found extremely helpful is when Kyle would say “good job!” or “thank you!” when I called out something important. His positive reinforcement calmed my nerves and gave me the confidence that I needed to guide Kyle throughout the 13 miles.
Eventually we reached the halfway point where I handed Kyle off at the exchange to his second guide, Eric Schranz. I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to spot Eric but he made it easy by wearing rainbow crochet shorts! And yes, they are just as awesome as they sound. Eric guided Kyle the last 13.1 miles to the finish of the race. The last few hundred meters Jayson and I jumped back in sp we could all cross the finish line together. Jayson, Eric and I used our sight to guide Kyle to an 8 minute PR! I will leave you with this; Eric said it best, “I’ve got a lot of bibs and there’s no question which has had the most impact on me.”
To be continued...
This summer Kyle takes on the Rocky Mountains at The Transrockies 6 Day Stage Race; 120 miles in 6 Days!
Learn more about it here. http://transrockies-run.com
Interested in guiding after reading about my experience? As I said in the beginning, more guides are always needed! You can find more information by going to www.unitedinstride.com
Or you can always reach out to myself, Maggie or Kyle with any questions you might have!
Other guiding resources:
Here are other articles on Kyle, including his own blog about CIM:
https://ultrarunnerpodcast.com/kyle-robidoux-athletes-disabilities/ Ultra Runner Podcast hosted by Eric Schranz (fellow guide!)