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National Blind Running Unity Day Connects Runners Around the Nation

Posted December 9, 2020  Uncategorized

In late September, runners across the nation received the dreaded news that the 2020 California International Marathon was canceled due to health and safety guidelines associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. For USABA runners and guides, it also meant the cancellation of the 2020 USABA Marathon National Championships, which are held in conjunction with the California International Marathon.

However, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we must adapt and persevere, and that’s just what USABA staff and volunteer marathon director Richard Hunter did.

To fill the void left by the cancellation, USABA and Hunter organized the first-ever National Blind Running Unity Day presented by Allworth Financial, which took place on Sunday, December 6 – the scheduled date of the California International Marathon and USABA Marathon National Championships.

“One of the greatest things about the USABA Marathon National Championships is the community of runners who come together to encourage and motivate one another,” said Hunter. “Since the championships were canceled, it allowed us to pivot and be inclusive of more blind and visually impaired runners who would benefit from being part of this ever-growing community, but may not have any interest in running a marathon or are just beginning their jogging journey.”

Wearing her USABA hat, a mask and Blind Runner vest, Cindy Lou Altman runs through the tape with her guide dog Jada to finish her 5k run on National Blind Running Unity Day. In the background are trees and a lake.
Cindy Lou Altman and her guide dog Jada finished their 5k strong despite 35-degree temperatures and 30 mph winds in Coatsville, Pennsylvania.

With no registration fee, the premise of USABA’s National Blind Running Unity Day was to encourage visually impaired joggers and runners of all ability levels to lace up their shoes and go for a run, whether it was indoors on a treadmill or outside with a sighted guide.

The response was overwhelming. A total of 174 registrants from 30 states signed up to participate, and over 60 of those runners joined in two community Zoom sessions on Dec. 6, to share their experiences, encourage each other, and form a sense of community around the event.

There were so many great insights, suggestions, tips and tricks talked about on the Zoom calls that a USABA Running Club has been created on Strava to offer another connection point for blind and visually impaired runners and guides.

Driving the great turnout for the first National Blind Running Unity Day were leads coordinated by Hunter in nine cities across the nation. Those hub cities included Boston (Mass.), Chicago (Ill.), Louisville (Ky.), Nashville (Tenn.), Philadelphia (Pa.), Phoenix (Ariz.), Sacramento (Calif.), Seattle/Tacoma (Wash.) and Washington, D.C.

Rob Sanchas' guide takes a selfie of the two runners on a path. Rob is in the background wearing his yellow bib with the word "BLIND" on it. Both runners are wearing masks and USABA running hats.
Rob Sanchas (background) and his guide pose for a socially-distanced selfie during their run in Rhode Island on National Blind Running Unity Day. Rob is a regular participant in the USABA Marathon National Championships.

For those who benefited from the community aspect of the USABA National Blind Unity Running Day, USABA encourages you to come alongside another B/VI person who is similarly just starting the journey of being physically active.  As Hunter said best, “We all took that first step at one time, and I bet someone came alongside you to make that happen. Let’s all pay that experience forward.” 

National Blind Running Unity Day by the numbers:

Total Registrants: 174

Blind Runners: 91

Guide Runners:62

Volunteers: 21

States Represented: 30

Zoom Attendees: 60+

A group of 16 runners and guides wearing masks pose for a group photo in a parking lot. Some are wearing GUIDE or BLIND bibs.
USABA Marathon National Championships Race Director Richard Hunter organized this group of runners in Sacramento, Calif., to take part in National Blind Running Unity Day on Dec. 6.