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What I Learned From Guiding A Deaf, Mute And Legally Blind Athlete

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What struck me about Sissel when we first met was that she that was glowing. This was despite the numerous challenges she was facing and the fact that she had been in the hotel lobby for over two hours waiting to get her room after a 10-hour flight from Norway. Though she is a deaf, mute and a legally blind 56-year old-woman and I was to be her guide, she actually guided me over the course of our five days together.

I am an eight-time marathoner with three NYC Marathons under my belt. I first began running in 2011 at 52 years old and started pursuing the NYC marathon by 2013. Wanting to help someone experience the same ecstasy I had upon finishing, I became an Achilles Guide.

My introduction to Achilles International was a pleasant Tuesday evening in Central Park. Achilles has chapters in many countries and cities, including New York. A non-profit organization, Achilles provides services to challenged athletes who participate in running races and triathlons. On this morning, roughly 30 Achilles athletes and Guides showed up to run or walk. I began training to become a Guide and was introduced to the tether, a rope that links one runner’s arm to another. I ran alongside a more experienced Guide, watching how he skillfully maneuvered the tether attached to a visually impaired Achilles runner’s arm. Soon after, I was the one using a tether as lead Guide.

The first time I was an Achilles Guide was during the 2016 NYC marathon. I was paired with an Achilles-Norway athlete, first-time marathoner Sissel Markhus—and getting to know Sissel was life-changing for me. Born deaf and mute, Sissel is now also legally blind. Injuries she sustained during childbirth prevented her from running for 25 years.

Sissel started run/walking two years ago with Achilles and this summer began training for her seemingly unattainable goal, the NYC marathon. Her training was disrupted when she fractured her ribs last month. Sissel resumed training two weeks before the marathon and was recovering from a shoulder infection and a horrendous cold before the flight to New York. Sissel travelled to NYC with two interpreters who have, for the last 10 years, assisted with her daily life. The interpreters were also first-time marathoners and new to New York.

What struck me about Sissel when we first met was that she that was glowing. This was despite the numerous challenges she was facing—and the fact that she waited int the hotel lobby for more than two hours for her room after a 10-hour flight from Norway. Though she is a deaf, mute and a legally blind 56-year old-woman and I was technically her guide, she was the one that actually guided me over the course of our five days together.

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