by Paul Thompson
Back in 2011 some Warren Street team mates and I responded to a request from Kathleen Bateman, of Achilles International, to guide a visually impaired runner who would be tripping down from Ottawa to New York to run the Achilles Hope & Possibility 5 mile race. She needed someone capable of running under 27 minutes! And she was not exaggerating.
The runner in question was multiple paralympic medallist Jason Dunkerley. Jason went onto to get a silver medal in the 500o metres, category T11, at the London 2012 Paralympics in 15:34. That day I guided Jason to 28:58 for the 5
mile race. I got the bug, if not the hang, of guiding. And today, with teammates Sam Lynch and Aaron Mendelsohn, I got the chance to do it all again but this time with Jared Broughton in the 2015 Achilles Hope and Possibility.
I opted for Jared over Jason on account of my fear that I would not be able to keep up with Jason. Since 2011 we had diverged – he had gotten faster, me slower. I was also short of shuteye having arrived home at 1:30am from a work trip to Trinidad (where I’d been running laps of the Savannah, Port of Spain in 90F).
Jared is a T13 category athlete which means he is less visually impaired than Jason. At 25 Jared is not as fast as Jason but if he plays his cards right he has the potential to medal at future Paralympics. While Jason needs to run either with a short rope (tether) connecting him to his guide or an arm gently nudging his guide, Jared, who can make out shapes within a certain range, just needs guides in close proximity to help him navigate people, potholes and puddles.
After warming up together Jared, Aaron and I joined Jason and his guide Sam near the front of the corral. Jared set his mind on starting at around 5:45 mpm pace and progressively stepping it up so as to run around 28:30. He wanted us to keep Jason in sight. Aaron, having raced the day before in the team scored Front Runners New York LGBT Pride Run (5M), was confident of 5:45s but less so the progression bit of the plan. After a few words from Jon Stewart we were off.
After dodging traffic we passed the mile one mark in 5:43 but Cat Hill crimped our pace and we passed the mile two mark in 11:42. We held constant in the third mile but by now Jason and Sam were out of sight but by no means mind. The fourth mile, not surprisingly given its hills and net ascent, caused us to slow slightly once more – we passed the four mile mark in around 23:30.
The final mile proved to be quite exhilarating – not only was it the fastest mile in around 5:30 but we passed a string of runners. As the finishing clock came into view 28:30 was out of the question but sub-29 all to play for. We sprinted the final 20om but the results had all three of us at 29:00! Jason was the first visually impaired athlete coming in at 28.33 minutes.
Guiding Jason and Jared has proven both motivating and enlightening. Motivating in so far as you can see what can be achieved when you put your mind to it and love doing it. Enlightening in so far as you focus on every detail of the run, most especially the things your runner struggles to see. You get to see the run close-up. Strange though that may sound.