There are events that happen throughout your life that you’ll remember forever.
Events that have a special place not just in your heart, but in those around you.
You can plan for these moments, but many times they’re just going to happen without you having any control whatsoever.
My experience as a marathon guide all happened completely out of my control.
Many years ago I was running a marathon in Sacramento, California and about halfway through the race I started passing runners that had the word GUIDE on their backs and they were tethered to another runner with a rope, and on their backs it said BLIND RUNNER.
I’m definitely not one to gawk at others, but in a very nondescript way I circled the running partners and was completely taken back.
From what it seemed there was a blind or visually impaired runner being guided through the marathon by someone who could see. Right away without even asking them any questions I knew this was something I wanted to do.
After the race I Googled all sorts of different search terms and found United In Stride which is the organization that pairs blind or visually impaired runners with sighted runners so they can all complete a race together. How amazing is that!
I watched their videos, read articles from runners who were currently guiding and signed myself up to be a guide.
And I waited.
I ran that marathon again, year after year and saw them again.
And I so desperately wanted to be a part of what they were doing for others.
I emailed the man who started the organization and was told I needed to be patient, there were a lot of sighted runners that wanted to guide. But, if I could run a faster marathon there would be a runner for me.
Sadly, I don’t have the speed he was looking for and couldn’t train that hard.
So I waited some more.
And then, SEVEN years after I submitted my initial application on their website, the email arrived.
Thanks so much for your interest in being a sighted guide, we have a runner for you if you’re still interested for the upcoming marathon in Sacramento this December.
I was in – in such a major way and so dang excited to guide.
And then it hit me, how do I guide another runner for 26.2 miles? I’ll need to take care of myself with eating and drinking fluids. What if I need to use the bathroom, what does my runner do? What if I get hurt during the race and can’t continue. What if what if what if what if.
And then I realized – if another human being, who I’ve never met, is going to trust me to be their eyes for 26.2 miles, we’ll surely be okay.
David and I met the night before our race, and what an amazing human being he is.
We talked about life. Training routines. What kind of shoes we wore. How he lost his vision. And so much more.
He put me at ease as we toed the line five minutes ahead of the main field with over 10,000 runners behind us.
David put me at ease, and then I had work to do.
Guiding someone else is not just about getting them across the finish line, it’s about giving them an experience. For those of us who have our vision we take so much for granted in our daily lives.
Describing what types of trees we’re passing as we make our way along the course.
Marathon spectators are known to have homemade signs with funny sayings and it became a routine to read them all as we passed – which would always put a smile on his face.
Any dogs that were on the course and what their breed was. Horses, goats, chickens – the plethora of animals and whenever we passed them was a part of our conversations – and the experience.
An unintended consequence of being a marathon guide is all the attention that we get. Hundreds upon hundreds of other runners cheering us on and telling us how good we look. (Early in the race we got passed a lot, but in the second half we were the ones doing the passing!)
And let me tell you how fun it is to tell other people how good they look as well, and I don’t feel guilty doing so because they gave us the compliment first, it’s amazing!
I’ve been a marathon guide now for the past two years and as long as David wants to fly into Sacramento all the way from Illinois to run a marathon, I’ll be there for him.
On the surface it looks like I’m the one who’s the guide, the helper, the one who gets water in the aid stations and makes sure the toilet seat is up on the porta-potty.
Let me be clear –
I’ve learned more about myself and David has helped me figure out little problems in my brain, way more than I think I’ve helped him.
Guiding is all….
About helping others
About what’s really important in life
About all the small details that probably most humans take for granted.
And I’ve learned them from a man who lost his vision many years ago, and all because I saw other human beings running a marathon while trying to help someone else achieve their goal.
Be someones guide.
You don’t need to just run with them.
You simply need to listen – ask questions – have conversation – tell them they can even when they think they can’t – tell them a story – help them to laugh – do something small – or something big – hold their hand – make yourself a little uncomfortable so they have a little bit more comfort – tell them something personal and maybe even vulnerable – brag about their accomplishments – read some signs – tell a joke – tell them they look amazing.
And don’t forget to be patient. I waited seven long years for the opportunity, play the long game in life and you’ll reap such a larger reward than if you’re only looking at the short game.
Short gamers get quick hits of satisfaction.
Long gamers get the satisfaction for the rest of their lives.
Be someone’s guide, you’re going to learn a lot about yourself and make this world a better place one interaction at at time.