The beauty of sport is that when given the opportunity, any person can participate. For athletes who are visually impaired, this is no different as these athletes are able to compete and participate in many different sports. In some sports such as alpine skiing, cross country skiing, tandem cycling and athletics, visually impaired athletes compete alongside guides. In the case of athletics, the guide, of course, is known as a guide runner.
Being a guide runner can be a great way to help a runner who is visually impaired enjoy running while still being safe. It is a great way for both the guide and the runner who is visually impaired to stay fit, socialize and enjoy being part of a team. From the recreational runner to the Paralympic level runner, guided running can be a positive and rewarding experience for both the guide and the athlete who is visually impaired. The guide enables the athlete to achieve their dream of participating in the local 5km road race, to pursue personal bests, to aspire towards the Paralympic stage with hopes of winning a medal or even better, hearing their national anthem played as he or she stands at the top of the podium. Sharing in these experiences is rewarding for the guide as well, since they are a part of the achievement which may lead them to compete on a world stage and enjoy the limelight. As evidenced by the fact that for the first time in Paralympic competition at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, guide runners in athletics also received a medal.
Before athletes with a visual impairment, or guides can bask in the glory of their accomplishments together, they have to work hard, stay disciplined, and be dedicated to achieving their goals. In running, the ideal guide, especially at the elite level, is someone who is much faster than the athlete who they are guiding. A much faster guide allows for the athlete to be able to train and race to their full potential. For an athlete competing on the world stage with ambitions of world records and Paralympic titles, the knowledge that their guide will be able to keep up is very important. After all, these opportunities may only come once in a lifetime and as such, having a guide capable of assuring that the athlete is able to accomplish such feats is essential.
Athletes with a visual impairment in track and field are classified in three categories:
T-11/F-11- No light perception in either eye, inability to recognize the shape of a hand at any distance or any direction. They are required to use a guide.
T-12/F-12- From the ability to recognize the shape of a hand up the acuity of 20/600 in the best eye with the best correction. They have the option of using a guide.
T-13/F-13 - The visual acuity above 20/600 in the best eye with the best correction. They are legally blind.
(T indicates track participants and F indicate field participants)
In guide running, the athlete and guide are usually tethered together by the hands with a string or rope. This allows the athlete and guide runner to be close to each other and ensures safety. Having similar lengths of stride also helps as it enables the team to be more efficient. The most important aspect of training and racing is communication. The guide has to make sure the athletes know what the pace is, what position they are in a race, etc. The guide runner becomes the eyes of the athlete, literally.
If you have a passion for sports and enjoy helping others reach their goals or want to stay fit, guiding is a great way to help someone live their dreams or be apart of something great. On the elite level there is the opportunity to see the world, compete on the world stage and perhaps pursue a medal and stand on the podium.
Josh Karanja, SIRC
Guide Runner for Jason Dunkerley
Winner, Ottawa Half Marathon 2013