My Sport Isn’t All I’m Crushing – Vision Loss
I could not do this series without featuring Rhonda-Marie. If you are in the running community, chances are, you have met her, ran with her or at the very least, heard of her. She is a blind ultra runner (she says aspiring but I think if you have done the Barkley Marathons, you can’t use aspiring anymore…)
Most people with a visual impairment would try to avoid situations with unexpected sudden drops, obstructions and unpredictable terrain. But not Rhonda. Not only is she the first visually impaired athlete to compete in the Barkley Marathons but she fearlessly takes on extreme trail challenges regularly. She epitomizes strength and courage to me and is one of my running heroes. I am so pleased to be able to share her story with you.
Tell me a little bit about your sport. What led you to running?
I started running with Achilles Canada 9 years ago. They are a volunteer organization that works with disabled athletes and guides to encourage participation in mainstream sport. Running was not an activity I’d ever taken part in before in my life. It was a new way of ‘self-care’ for me at that time. It has since turned into a passion for creating awareness for inclusive sport.
What is your proudest moment in your sport?
I’m not a fast runner. I’ll never be known for a sprinted finish or a speedy PR. My proudest moment in running is when another disabled person asks how they can take part. This is a huge win for me. It means the message is actually being heard. Changes come in small steps. It makes me proud to be a small piece of creating change.
What does a typical training week look like for you?
This depends on where I am in a training cycle. I am self-employed as well, so there’s a lot of shuffling of runs and training sessions to fit things in. I tend to do a lot of running in the early morning when it’s dark out. Some days are double runs just to fit in the required time or distances. There are typically two longish runs a week, a yoga class, a strength session and a few short runs to keep the legs moving. Average mileage is 60km in low weeks and 100km in high weeks.
What adjustments do you need to make in a race/expedition to accommodate your vision loss?
Accessibility is pretty unpredictable. Sometimes it means extra guide runners depending on the distance of the event. Sometimes it means carrying more food and water to cover extra time spent on course. Most times it means a mental awareness that the course itself is likely not created with accessibility and inclusion in mind and to be wary and mindful with each step. There are likely drop-offs, rocks, roots etc that will need to be dealt with along the way. Enlarged maps may be of assistance as well.
What is the greatest piece of advice you have to any athlete who has vision loss who thinking about starting to run?
Enlist a friend. Find a team of people who can help you to navigate the unknown waters of what it’s like to run, what challenges might be ahead, and to learn what you need from a guide runner. My biggest piece of advice? Write the words “self doubt” on a piece of paper and put the paper in a jar. This is not a thing you want to carry with you when embarking on a run. Leave it at home, safe and tucked away.
You have done some incredible events over the past couple years.
What draws you to endurance running, especially trail which I imagine is much harder to navigate with vision loss? The longer the event the less likely the expected finish is a VI athlete. You might run a road half marathon and see a “blind runner” race bib or two. But the chances of you hearing about seven VI athletes running across the country are pretty slim. My main goal is to show up in all the unexpected places and squish in between thinking to create space of accessible sport.
What is the biggest thing your vision loss has gifted you as an athlete?
Community. Hands down people have rallied around to help and to lift up and to support me and my cause. I know so many wonderful people, including my husband because of being a VI athlete.
Where can people find you online?
Facebook, twitter (@Mrsbatgirl78), instagram (@batgirl78)
Anything else you want to add?
Do the thing that scares you most; that’s where your power is.