On Saturday I ran three laps of a 400-m track in about three minutes per lap, yet it gave me every bit as much satisfaction as finishing any marathon. The reason was that I was leading a blind runner in the EMB (Endurance Mind and Body) Race in support of fund-raising for eye operations in developing coutries. But it wasn't just me, nor was it in the slightest little bit about me or my running.
The format was that teams of six would take it in turns to guide a blind runner around the track for 45 minutes. The team that completed the most laps was the winner (though "winning" was the last thought on anybody's mind; I think we all felt like winners just by being there). The blind runner ran the entire 45 minutes and thus served as the team's baton. My team's runner carried the nickname "Big One" for reasons that are obvious from the photo of him and Anna.
The blind runners mostly came from the Achilles Running Club, which is often working out in Yoyogi Park when we do our Sunday runs. So often I have admired the courage of these people, who run despite living in a world of darkness, and the selflessness of their guides. Often I've wanted to help in some way, but never taken the step outside my own cosseted comfort zone to actually do anything, never faced my feeble insecurities like "what do you say to a blind person? Especially one who doesn't speak your language?". I think many of us carry these kinds of mixed desires to help combined with unbridled selfishness and "hangups" that stop us actually doing something. The presence of the Achilles Club in Yoyogi so often made me all too aware of my own.
So, when Fabrizio called for volunteers for Nambanners to form teams for this event, I jumped at the chance. It was really interesting learning how to run with a blind runner (make sure your inside foot is in time with his) and great to confront and overcome the "what-should-I-say-after-I-say-hello" discomfort of engaging in small talk with him and his regular guide, in this case his father, who was jogging along behind.
Our two Namban teams raised enough money to fund 19 eye operations. There are some more photos of the day here.
A highlight was the presence of the half marathon world record holder for blind runners (70 minutes), Henry Wanyoike and his guide, Joseph Kibunja.
They really cruised around the track and it was beautiful to see them in action. Aren't we lucky, that we can actually do that? See, that is. Here is a YouTube clip about Henry. It is amazing watching him drag his illness-weakened guide at the end of the 5000-m at the Sydney Paralympics.