Paralympian, Chaz Davis surprised us all last December when he broke an American record in the B2 visual impairment category in his debut marathon. Davis finished the California International Marathon in an impressive 2:31:48, winning the 2016 U.S. Association of Blind Athletes Marathon National Championship title in the men’s division. And this just months after competing in the 1500m and 5000m events at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
The following month, elite ultra-marathoner, Michael Wardian won the 2017 World Marathon Championships – a seven-day tour across the seven continents for seven marathons – in record time, averaging 2:45:57 for each.
Both runners have proven their well-earned elevated status in the running community and on December 3rd, they will be taking on the 2017 U.S. Association of Blind Athletes Marathon National Championships together.
Each year, the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) hosts their marathon national championships in conjunction with the California International Marathon (CIM) in Sacramento. Since the CIM established a visually impaired division in 2007, participation of blind and visually impaired runners has grown from 2 to nearly 50. Participants include blinded Military Veterans, Paralympic athletes, World Champions, and many novice runners just beginning their running careers.
Before becoming legally blind his freshman year of college, running was an individual sport for Davis. When he began losing his sight due to Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy, a rare disease that destroys the optic nerve in the eye, it became a team sport. Davis would now have to rely on guides to help him navigate trails and race courses. He ran his first CIM as part of a relay team, running the first half of the course before a teammate and his guide completed the second half.
Finding sighted guides for runners who are blind and visually impaired isn’t always easy, and it’s even more difficult to find guides who can keep up with elite runners like Davis.
“For me, guides are essential in my race success,” said Davis. “But finding a guide is always a stressful experience.”
Enter USABA Volunteer Coordinator, Richard Hunter, who plays matchmaker for runners and guides for the USABA Marathon each year and helps eliminate the stress runners often feel when trying to find a guide who is willing to donate their time, money and race schedule to help someone else.
“Richard took great time and effort in locating guides for me,” said Davis. “Last year was perfect and this year, when Richard mentioned Michael Wardian potentially guiding me for part of the race, I was thrilled with the prospect!”
With four 100-milers, two 100ks, two 50-milers, two 50ks, 12 marathons and countless more races completed in 2016 alone, plus numerous world records and three Olympic Marathon Trials qualifications, Wardian was a perfect match for Chaz’s speedy sub 2:30 goal for the 2017 USABA Marathon. But it’s also the pair’s common drive towards the next challenge that make them a great runner-guide duo.
“I like to find something new that interests me every year,” said Wardian. “I like seeing what I’m able to do and not limiting myself. I’ll do anything from a 1-mile race to a 400k race.”
The 2017 USABA Marathon National Championships will be Wardian’s first formal guiding experience.
“I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to give back to the running community and tailor that to a specific race,” said Wardian. “It’s hard to find people that are not in it all for themselves. I look forward to helping Chaz do something unprecedented.”
Davis recognizes and appreciates the sacrifices made by guides like Wardian and the more than 70 volunteer sighted guides that will run on Sunday.
“As blind runners, we are constantly relying on one, if not more, guides for any race that we would like to run,” said Davis. “All of the guides sacrifice time, money and their own racing schedule in order to help us attain our own goals. Visually impaired athletes of all speeds benefit from the dedication of the generous people guiding us.”
“People are often inspired by a blind runner accomplishing incredible feats. However, the guides that run alongside us are instrumental in our success and we could not even begin to enjoy our athletic dreams without the support of the selfless people that help us each day. Having a well-known runner come out and guide one of us only helps spread the word about visually impaired runners, what we can do, and how anyone can help us accomplish these goals. Running alongside such an accomplished distance runner as Mike will be an amazing experience.”
Davis will run alongside Wardian as his guide for the first half of the marathon on Sunday, December 3, in Sacramento. The two will meet up with Davis’s second guide at the exchange.
If you’re interested in serving as a volunteer guide or you are in need of a sighted guide, contact U.S. Association of Blind Athletes or visit UnitedInStride.com to find a running partner near you.