By: Matthew J. Rodjom
Seven years ago, I started my greatest challenge and adventure in life, fatherhood. I am a father to twin girls, Emily and Marisa, who are 7, and a son, Zachary, who is 4. Since my wife, Sarah, and I are distance runners, sports and athletics are part of the daily routine at our house.
When the twins were toddlers they were at every race mom and dad ran. It is a pretty cool feeling hearing “Go, Daddy, Go” when my guide and I pass at the end of a local 5k. In 2016, I attempted to make the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field team. The whole family came and cheered at the Rio 2016 U.S. Paralympic Track & Field Trials in Charlotte, NC. It was a great experience for the kids to see all the elite disabled athletes competing. It allowed them to meet other runners like their dad.
This year, I had the opportunity to represent Team USA at the London Marathon in the IPC Marathon World Cup. My whole crew flew across the pond to cheer. It was a very uplifting feeling to hear my kids at mile 12 when I crossed the iconic Tower Bridge. They also got to see daddy in the lead at the London Marathon. (They don’t know that the para-athletes get an hour early start. Shhh.) They saw me again at mile 22 feeling tired but still so excited to be part of the experience.
At USABA Marathon Championships, I’ve had the opportunity to meet other blind fathers and swap blind parenting stories. Blind or not, finding the time to train as a father is challenging and it gets even more complicated when my wife is also training. (Tip: One Disney movie equals 1 hour and 20 minutes on the treadmill!) Sometimes I opt for an early morning or late-night run so I don’t miss play time with the kids.
All three of my children are now finding their own love for sport. The twins are active in dance, track and field, and swimming, while Zachary plays soccer and swims. At every dance recital, we have front row tickets. I might not be able to see Zachary’s soccer game but I make sure he hears me. One of our family’s fun weekend activities is to drive into the Shenandoah and go for a hike. We all love being outside as much as we can. This year, I was one of the twins’ track and field coaches. Being legally blind and keeping 15-20 seven- and eight-year-olds organized for drills was like herding cats. Lucky for me, I had a great team of coaches supporting me. What an awesome experience being on the side of the track cheering on my two girls.
I think it is important to support the kids in athletics. My father was at every soccer game and track meet when I was growing up and I plan to do the same. When I asked my dad to sign me up for my first marathon post blindness, he didn’t even hesitate, while others might. If I hadn’t done that race, I might never have met all of the amazing visually impaired runners I have competed with over the years. I believe my determination and love of sport has passed on to my three amazing children and I can’t wait to watch them grow and flourish, no matter what they choose to do.
As a father, I hope to accomplish three things with my kids: 1. Inspire them to love a sport (no matter which sport they choose), 2. Teach them to pursue their dreams despite obstacles – just like being legally blind it did not stop my ability to compete, and 3. Pass on a greater awareness of the abilities of people with disabilities. The kids know what I can’t do, but more importantly, they know what I can do. Sending lots of love to Emily, Marisa, and Zachary – who fill my life with joy.