Running to Thanksgiving
by Kelsi Hansen
Thanksgiving? It’s already Thanksgiving? I can’t believe it! The years fly by, don’t they? Normally my family has a small Turkey Day, planned at the last second, and we all stuff as much food as we can into our gullets. Nothing too unusual, just the normal Thanksgiving. However, this year I decided to sign up for a 5k on Thanksgiving day. I’m super excited … I’m hoping I’ll be able to stuff more in without getting as full!
I started running about six months ago, and what a difference it has had on my entire life! Yes, I’m in better shape; yes, I have more energy; yes, I feel great overall; but the biggest change running has brought to my life is the sense of community it provides. And that is what I am truly thankful for this Thanksgiving.
I often get asked, “What is the hardest part about running in regards to my blindness?” As with most things in my life, my answer is: not much. Running as a sighted individual and running as a blind individual is about the same. I still have to work on my endurance and speed; I still have to work on building my core muscles; I still have to run on a consistent basis; and I have days that suck, and days that are amazing … just like all the runners I have ever met in my life. I do sometimes step off the edge of the side walk and roll my ankle, but lucky for me I have rubber ankles and they just pop right back. I wouldn’t say this is hard though. After all I don’t get hurt when it happens. If anything, it is harder on the person who is running with me acting as my guide. They have to watch for everything, they have to tell me when there is a turn, when there is a curb, when there is a crack, and any other unforeseen circumstances. Out of the two of us, my guide definitely has the hardest job.
This being said, there is one difficulty that I have found as a blind runner, and that is finding people who would be willing and able to run with me and act as my guide on a consistent basis. Not to say that this is anyone’s fault, or to make them feel bad … being a guide is a hard job and I get that. I also understand that people have their own lives and committing to running with me consistently may not be easy to pencil in to daily life. So to overcome this, I have built up a community of runners. Fortunately for me, the area where I live has a great running community that has already been established. When I decided I wanted to start running I got in contact with someone who is very prominent in the running community. He in turn put me in touch with a few other runners. One of which responded, and I am so unbelievably fortunate that she did. She is pretty much my running base. She was able to commit to running with me once a week. She is absolutely wonderful! I can’t say it enough.
Since I run with her once a week, I just have to worry about finding a running partner for the other 1-2 times I run in a week. Between races, the beginning running clinic I was a part of, and the established running community, I have found many people who are willing to be a guide for me that I can contact for those other days. I have also joined a facebook group for some runners in the area, so if I am having trouble finding a running partner, I can just post on there. I don’t succeed in finding someone all the time, and it took a while to build up the contacts that I do have but having built my community so much in the past six months, I usually find someone to run with.
Running is not easy. It is difficult in many ways. I’m not very fast and I am still working hard on building endurance and speed. But having this amazing community has helped immensely. I have met wonderful people and have made many friends. My running partners are very supportive and encouraging, and I have found that the running community in general is extremely supportive. They want people to succeed. All people. Disability or no. They are awesome people. Starting to run and joining this community is one of the best decisions I have ever made.
I think that the hardest part of starting anything new as a blind person is building that community. A lot of times we need that support. I know that I am capable of many many things without sighted help. I could get a treadmill and run on my own, but I prefer running outside with other people. And so I have to rely on sighted people for that help. I have had to learn to advocate for myself and not be afraid to keep asking. I have always been told to advocate, but never really understood what that meant or how to do it. But running has really helped me learn how to. I’ve learned to ask and keep asking. I’ve learned to be bolder in my approaches. Not to be afraid to put it out there that I need help. Not to worry that I am bothering someone by continuing to ask and put myself out there. It’s been a difficult thing to learn, and I am still learning. But it really is the only way to make things happen.
So for those of you who struggle with this like I do, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to be “pushy.” Chances are, you’re not. People aren’t judging you, you aren’t bothering them. And honestly, if you are, that’s not your problem. If they are bothered by it, that is their issue, not yours. So if there is something new you want to do, find that person and contact them. And if that falls through, try again. Don’t be afraid to be bold. To build that community you need to advocate. To advocate you sometimes just need to let go. Let go of your worries and anxieties, and just be brave and take that step towards your goal.
So yes, I am extremely grateful for running and what it has brought to me: not only exercise, new friends, a new wonderful community; but also personal growth. What I am thankful for this Thanksgiving is running.
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