By Sophie Thomas
“You have night blindness don’t you Soph?”
“Yep, that’s right”
“Why don’t you do Wings For Life? It’s run at night”
“errr…because I have night blindness?!”
As we all know, Amanda loves to challenge athletes with vision impairment. Little did she know that this conversation actually sowed a seed of confidence in me, after years of telling myself it would be too hard. I’ve had countless mini debates with myself about whether I’d rather be losing my sight, or the use of my legs. To be honest, the legs win every time. I can’t imagine not having the ability to run, or even walk. Using a wheelchair seems to have so many challenges. So the Wings For Life event has always interested me, as it’s solely focused on raising funds for spinal injury research. There are also three totally different things that make this running event stand out from the others:
I have Retinitis Pigmentosa, which means I have some central vision, but my field of vision reduces to very little in low light conditions. So I naturally had some misgivings about signing up for a run which is held at night. But that seed that Amanda sowed grew a little more when I found out one of the Achilles guides, Lara, had already signed up. She offered to guide me, and her enthusiasm and excitement was all I needed to sign up too!
The logistics of picking up my race pack on the day were made so much easier by Catherine, another Achilles guide who had also signed up to run. She picked me up during the day and we headed over to the hub, handed over our disclaimer forms and collected our race bib, fluoro t-shirt and head-torch. Yep, you had to wear a head-torch! (which clever me turned on while I was looking at it aargh BRIGHT LIGHT BRIGHT LIGHT *stars and floaty blobs*). Then she dropped me home again for a few hours before arranging to collect me again in the evening.
Those hours were weird. I felt too nervous to nap, I was trying to hydrate (cue lots of toilet visits) and also work out when/what I should eat etc. I kept myself busy by writing on my t-shirt BLIND RUNNER as I couldn’t wear my usual Achilles one. Before I knew it Catherine was back to pick me up and it was go-time!
We had to park quite a way from the event hub. It was already dark at this point, so I clutched Catherine’s trusty arm and went with the flow. We caught up with Lara, Brooke, Paul and Jacinta at our meeting spot and calmed our nerves, posing for photos and having a giggle. Then it was time to go! Everyone had to make sure their head torches were on. We were marshalled along a footpath which led under the freeway, all lit up with neon lights and music pumping (although Lara was not impressed with the song choices “this is NOT music!”), round the path wound and then …wait, we’re actually on the freeway now!? Woah, cool. There we waited, dutifully throwing our arms up for the Mexican wave on demand. I’d taken my hearing-aids out at this point so I was in my little quiet world, however I had no problem hearing the loudspeaker while everyone around me was literally putting their fingers in their ears! We had 5 minute, 2 minute and 1 minute warnings, then the horn sounded! It was awesome to think that the same thing was happening all around the world at the exact same time.
Running on the freeway in the dark was a really cool experience. I wasn’t scared at all. Lara did an awesome job of guiding me around people and then pretty quickly the race spread out and we had loads of space! The street lamps provided enough light so I didn’t feel I was running in total darkness, and Lara kindly went at a pace that was easy for me to keep. After 30 minutes I knew the car would have set off, so I started wondering how much further we’d make it. There were buses stationed along the course to pick up people whose race had finished. I think we managed to pass three buses so I was feeling pretty chuffed but pretty tired. At the drink station they were handing out Red Bull, which was exactly what I needed! After that there were no more street lamps so I’ll be honest, a bit of fear crept in, but then Lara started singing “I got you babe” and I knew I was all right. I suggested we have another little walking break, but then all of a sudden we heard people saying the car was behind us! Noooo not yet! Lara and I sprinted (I don’t know how I did this!), but then she got pushed into me by a guy on a bike telling us to move over, and it was lucky he did because the catcher car went by super close! On it drove, beeping its horn and shutting down people’s races up ahead.
We forgot to track our run but heard from someone near us that we’d made 8km, not bad! Then it was a little walk to the next bus where we grabbed some water and a space blanket (secretly I was thrilled to get this, it made me feel like a marathon runner). The buzz on the bus was immense, it was clear everyone loved it! Lots of people planning to enter again and get further next time!
Back at the event hub there was a huge screen up showing runners all over the world: Germany, Korea, Austria, Brazil and so many more. Forget being parkrun tourists, we decided we wanted to be Wings tourists! Travel to cool and exotic places and do the run in a different spot each year!
But would it really have the same impact if I ran it during the day? I feel so proud of overcoming my fears of running at night, and it was made possible due to Amanda’s confidence in me, and the sheer brilliance of Achilles guides Lara and Catherine. I’m so grateful to them for giving up their time and energy to help me achieve this milestone.
I highly recommend this event – I’ll be there next year, come and join me!
(Pictured below left - right: headshot of Lara and Sophie with their head torches on smiling pre-race)
By Penny Stevenson
Penny reflects on her journey from the 2018 Mountain to Mouth - Geelong's multi-award winning extreme arts walk - an 80km biennial journey of discovery over two days...
Most events are about the distance and this is no exception! However in this event there is no time keeping, no records to be set or broken just amazing land to be traversed.
Along the path there are art installations to consider or reflect upon or just laugh at (Oompaloompas with squeaky rubber chickens spring to mind)...
You were encouraged to be aware of your environment with sensory activities provided along the way.
The route was largely flat and on made tracks, gravel, concrete or bitumen. I did it without a guide using my cane and walking pole and following walkers. There were some sections where the path was so good and empty I didn’t even need my cane.
There were shuttle buses to transport people between stages so you could pick and choose which stages you did.
It was pet dog friendly but because I was doing the whole distance I chose not to bring my guide dog.
The artworks were mostly pretty tactile although some audio description of the ceremonies would make the experience better.
I am looking forward to 2020 for the next one!
Discover Geelong, our land and our waterways, walk with us, follow the ceremonial sculptural ‘Canoe’ and enjoy the amazing ephemeral artworks at Walking Circles along the 80km contemporary songline route.
M~M begins at the You Yangs mountain range, crosses Geelong’s industrial heartland at nightfall and arrives in the city centre to collide with Geelong After Dark, a night of extreme and unexpected arts.
In the tradition of Wadawurrung traditional owners, M~M creates a contemporary songline across the Geelong and Queenscliffe regions. Artworks installed in Walking Circle landmarks feature at the 12 Songline Stations along the way.
M~M offers walkers the opportunity to register for the experience of their choice - the distance, the challenge, the terrain. M~M offers experiences that are free to all - ceremonies marking significant points along the walk.
visit https://www.mountaintomouth.com.au for more informail
Pictured below: Penny and her walking buddies walk over the famous Seachange bridge into Barwon Heads as the sun sets in the distance.
Who can believe we are already in April, with both Easter gone and daylight hours reduced? Feels like things are starting to get dreary...except with our volunteer of the month winner, things have been far from dreary with her around! This month, we congratulate Hazel! Hazel's nomination read:
'She did an excellent job organising the hike for us and thought about everything. From organising how people will get there, to picking a medium level course. She even arranged a few of her volunteer firey friends to be extra guides which gave us the opportunity to have a rest at the Callista Fire Station. But it didn't stop there, she also arranged lunch, bringing in delicious home-made muffins, fruits, hydrolytes and purchased rolls from the local cafe for everyone'
All these additional activities outside the Sunday training truly brings joy to our members, thank you so much Hazel!!!
Pictured: Hazel (in the middle), with Deb and Tim. Hazel also is part of this Eastern lifts roster team and drives club members to be able to attend Sunday training.
By Jane Britt
President, Achilles Brisbane
On behalf of our members, I am excited to announce that Achilles Brisbane was founded today.
Achilles Australia is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to create an Australia where people with disabilities can enjoy the social, recreational and health benefits of an active lifestyle. We facilitate training and participation in running and walking events in an inclusive, supportive social environment where people with disabilities can achieve life changing goals with the assistance of guides.
Achilles Brisbane is joining the Sydney, Canberra, and Melbourne chapters of Achilles Australia and the many other chapters of Achilles International.
A unanimous vote at the inaugural meeting led to an historic milestone for sports accessibility in Brisbane. Achilles Brisbane is to be formally incorporated under the leadership of President Jane Britt, Treasurer Birgit Rainbird, and Secretary Barbara Clarke, and already enjoys the support of several Brisbane parkruns, the Brisbane Road Runners Club, and the Intraining Running and Triathlon Club.
Barbara, an athlete with vision loss who joined our informal running group last year, says the formation of Achilles Brisbane is exciting: "It will make exercise and participation in events a reality for people with a disability that currently struggle find the funds and/or an exercise buddy to help them. It opens a whole new world of opportunity for people with a disability to fully participate in their communities.".
Achilles Brisbane connects individuals with disability with guides to pursue activities such as walking, running, tandem bike riding, rock climbing and many other activities. This is a step towards empowerment and independence for many people who may have previously felt unable to participate in these community or individual activities.
Achilles Brisbane will use membership fees, corporate sponsorship, grants and fundraising to financially assist its members with a disability with entering official events with their guides.
The formation of the association formalises the dedicated informal work undertaken in Brisbane over the last year in supporting vision impaired athletes with guides, the goal being to expand this work to all athletes requiring assistance.
For more information please contact Achilles Brisbane via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This month, we not only applaud, but also sadly bid a temporary farewell to our February recipient, Simone Albiston. We received a heartfelt nomination that read:
"Simone is a great person who is passionate, thoughtful and humble. She has assisted me to get on with my life, and taught me how to slow down and relax. She gave me opportunities to learn and assisted with tasks beyond her running responsibilities. She is a truly caring person who is always smiling during times of struggle. I have always had the idea to live with passion and I found this in her, I am so grateful for her friendship"
Simone has donated her time to develop personalised training programs for our athletes in preparation for running events as well as providing transport to and from Sunday training. We will miss her immensely as she heads overseas seeking new adventures. Thanks for everything Simone! We look forward to hearing all about your travels!!!
Pictured: Simone, third from the right, at her farewell dinner with some of the Achilles crew.
Taking out the first volunteer of the month for 2018 is Tanya Martin! Tanya was nominated for all the behind the scenes work that she does for Achilles Melbourne!
"Tanya has essentially covered most of the administrative tasks that the club needs - seeking sponsorship, event coordination, Sunday coordination and guide training, completing all these tasks without any hiccups! Not only is she reliable and super organised, Tania does all this whilst staying cool, calm and collected"
Tanya's calming presence is much appreciated by all in the club, thanks Tanya!!!!
Pictured: Tanya standing with Simon at the 2017 end of year Christmas BBQ
By Amanda Kwong
Being only our 2nd year in operation in Melbourne, 2017 packed a punch with running events, saw our club grow throughout the year, and friendships, old and new solidified with our Sydney and Canberra sister clubs. Let's take a look back at the joys brought to us by 2017 with Achilles Melbourne...
Still recovering from post-Christmas and New Years feasts, we kicked off the year, officially engaging with our first parkrun at Highlands parkrun, Craigieburn. Parkruns have been integral to engaging guides who live close to our Achilles athletes.
Our first events went underway for 2017 with Francois and Kevin, guided by a team of Adrienne, Tanya, Nat and Amelia at the Sunset Series in both the 4k and 8k events. We also participated in our first regional event, the Wangaratta Marathon and running festival, with Adam completing his first marathon event for 2017, guided by Martin, and Simon shaved minutes off his previous 21k time with guide, Lara.
Parkrun participation was increasing rapidly with participants as far as Balyang Sanctuary (Geelong) joining our ranks. While we didn't have many events we were participating in, this month was massive for our personal awards cabinet. Nominated for a VicSport award, Achilles Melbourne was awarded the VicHealth Outdoor/Active Recreation Initiative of the Year. Francois and Amanda also made an appearance at the Art Centre's Fun Run event, where Francois was interviewed about his running "career" to date.
The month our 2017 event calendar started to ramp up, with Run for the Kids and the Great Train Race. We had a healthy team of participants for both events across varying distances, and some media appearances by Adam and Tanya in the Herald Sun ahead of Run for the Kids and Adam and Tim appearing on the evening news for the coverage of the Puffing Billy Great Train Race.
An exciting annual event, the Melbourne Coastrek was tackled by two of our keen-bean members, Ness and Peggy, guided by Sami and Jacinta. These girls had perfect weather conditions to tackle their 30km walk along the picturesque Mornington Peninsula.
Our events continued with Stadium Stomp at the MCG with some of our vertically fit ladies taking on the full and half courses. Most were first timers for this event, but Brooke, who also featured in an ABC radio interview, tackled the full course with guide, Sarah - both also appearing on the news. The media exposure didn't stop there, with Maddy having a special write-up in her local Numurkah times paper about her stomp participation. We also held our first major fundraising event for the year, our inaugural Bunnings BBQ, raising just over $600 for the day.
Crunch time for most for the year. We had our first athlete participating in an interstate event: Adam, completed his second marathon in a shave over 3 hours, 30 minutes at the Gold Coast Marathon. He was tailed by guide, Tim, with complete faith in a first-time guide, and previous GC Marathon winner. We also had a record number of Achilles athletes participating in the 2017 edition of Sole Motive's Run Melbourne across half marathon, 10k, and 6k distances.
Our second fundraising activity for the year - our inaugural trivia night, and boy was it a successful night! Our Achilles community came together over a night of laughs, wit and useless information. We also started a special bond with nokkon, who assisted us with boosting our pool of guides.
One of our highlights of the year, the Sydney Running Festival. We joined forces with Achilles Sydney and Canberra to create the ultimate sea of yellow to run together across the harbour bridge. We had entrants across all events, including first timers Haylee and Christine in the 3.5k bridge run, through to veteran marathon runner, Simon, completing his yearly marathon with Sydney guide Wayne.
This month saw us turning our sights to one of the biggest events on the Melbourne running calendar: the Melbourne Marathon. We had several teams over all distances again, with Andrew participating in his first ever fun run with guides Lucy and Michael.
We also held our second AGM and thanked outgoing Secretary Julie, Treasurer Jacinta and Volunteer coordinator Francois to welcome in new Treasurers Nat and Maddy, Secretary Ness, and Volunteer Coordinator Peggy.
This was crazy event month! We packed in one event for every weekend in November: The New York marathon, with Adam, guided by Tim and Nigel, and Francois, guided by Adrienne, Tanya and Tammy completed the holy grail of all marathons. We also ran in City2Sea, the Eureka Climb, AND entered two teams into the Sri Chinmoy Tan marathon relay. How's that for a busy month!! To top it all off, we even managed to squeeze in a bush hike at Sherbrooke Forest into this month as well!
We finally made it to the end of the year, but we weren't slowing down at all. We kick started the month with the Carman Women's Fun Run in dubious weather conditions that should have been the storm of the century. We were also visited by Flex Sports Physiotherapy who ran a series of workshops to help our athletes improve their running technique and running weeks in preparation for another big 2018 year.
What an exciting jam-packed year 2017 was. On behalf of all the committee and members at Achilles Melbourne, thank you everyone for volunteering, guiding, being enthusiastic every Sunday morning, and helping this club grow in our second year running!
Our November winner was nominated for her wonderful and infectious enthusiasm at the Saturday park runs and at our regular Sunday training. Now that is a lot of energy for early mornings on a weekend. Congratulations go to Nat Blair this November! Here is why she was nominated!
'Nat put in the mammoth task of organising our hiking trip to Sherbrooke. She visited the course prior to our visit to check it out before we came along. On the day, she coordinated guides and made sure we were all ok. She even drove us up the hill in about 4 or 5 car trips so we didn’t have walk on the road (safety first).'
Thank you Nat for all your hard work, not only with guiding but for all your support behind the scenes organising extra-curricular activities for us all!
(Pictured below: Nat in Hobart for the Point to Pub run, bringing Achilles to Tasmania.)
Meet our October winner - Victoria D’Cruz. Vic was nominated as ‘she is always happy to run with anyone no matter what their level, guides with great skill and camaraderie, and goes beyond in terms of offering transport support, park run guiding, helped with the raffle prizes for our trivia, and is a great supporter to the guide team.’ Whenever Vic attends on Sunday, we know that she is always happy to fill in any unexpected gaps and take on a walker, jogger or runner. Volunteer flexibility is exactly what we need in a running club like ours, so thank you Vic!
by Liz E
(pictured above: 18 Achilles 10k and 21k runners stand together for a group photo outside the MCG Gate 2)
Sunday was my first time at the Melbourne Marathon, and I loved it! It was also my first time guiding a runner who is blind.
I traveled over from Gippsland to Melbourne on Saturday morning with four friends from my local running group - Sale and District Runners. Things didn't start so well when I took the first sip of my coffee in my travel mug and I realised I'd made it without actually boiling the kettle. I guess is was a true indication of how tough things can be before the first coffee of the day...Anyway lucky it was McHappy Day so we stopped to grab another one. Bib pick-up went well. I spent some cash on new running essentials, and then had a mandatory dinner at Spaghetti Tree in the CBD with my other running buddies.
Bronwen (one of my friends I'd traveled down with) and I arrived at the MCG on Sunday at 6am for her to drop her bag ready for the marathon (she killed it - also it almost killed her so kind of even) and queue at the loos.
BUT then the exciting part!!!!! At 6.30, I met Chris Baillie and his family for the first time! Chris is a runner who is blind. He has been close to totally blind since birth but only running since May this year, when he hooked up with Achilles Melbourne. Achilles is a group that trains people to guide people with vision impairment/who are blind and then links them up with people with vision impairment to be running buddies. I joined Achilles about 2 months ago when I attended at a training day at The Tan Track where I learnt to be a guide. As a part of the training I was blind folded and guided along. I wouldn't call what I did while being guided running, because it was so nerve wracking that I really just shuffled my feet along the ground.
I was linked up with Chris and Amanda (another guide) to complete the 10k course. At all times, either Amanda or myself was with Chris, while the other was "bulldozing" a clear path for Chris to safely run.
I started with the task of bulldozing. It was a tough gig. I had to spot and point out in advance gutters, low trees, bollards, parked cars, and anything else that was a potential hazard so that Amanda had enough time to safely guide Chris around them without dropping speed. However, the one hazard that was tough to control were the other runners on the course. I ran a few meters ahead calling out "blind runner" "move aside for a blind runner" "Thankyou!". For the most part, people were more than accommodating once they could hear me. It was a job made tough by the fact that so many runners wore earphones with the music turned up and had no idea what was happening around them. Anyway, a gentle push got them moving over, and on we ran. I quickly found that yelling while running is tiring! Chris suggested I should have a megaphone!
(pictured below: Chris and Liz run towards Birrarung Marr next to Federation Square in a crowd of fellow runners)
At about half way I swapped into the role as guide. Talk about hyper-vigilance! Such a responsibility. Chris was 100% relying on me to stay safe. He critiqued my instructions – short, sharp and to the point! He was very patient with me, and for that I am grateful. Apart from verbalising all our movements, I described the scenery as we ran past so Chris knew where we were and what was going on- and it is definitely the most attention I've ever paid to what was going on around me. Exhausting stuff! As we were running I asked Chris if he had ever been inside the MCG before. He had: to represent Australia playing cricket! I ran Chris straight past his wife, Amy, who was trying to take our photo on the course without even noticing her, and I had thought that nothing was escaping my attention!
Chris had a goal of sub 60. We smashed that time with 56.37.
It is the most rewarding run I've ever done. Allowing Chris the freedom to enjoy running as much as I do, something I have always taken for granted.
Sunday’s run was tough for me and I was exhausted from having to be so switched on to everything, but I have a lot of improving to do. My voice was a bit hoarse from yelling all through the run, and then cheering everyone else along the way. As a person who had always had full vision, I cannot imagine the courage and determination it would take for a person with vision impairment to start running. I am truly blown away by the whole concept and just wrapped that I found out about this group of amazing people and am able to participate. I will definitely continue to be involved with Achilles.
If you get the chance, I would highly recommend jumping on board with Achilles to help give people with vision impairment/who are blind the freedom to run when they otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity.
Achilles saw 13 teams from both Melbourne and Sydney clubs participate in the 2017 Medibank Melbourne Marathon. We congratulate the following teams:
Team Mel from Sydney (with guide Phil from Melbourne) congratulations for completing her first marathon!
Team Andrew v d S from Sydney (with guide Julie B from Melbourne)
Team Adam (with guides Nigel and Matthew)
Team Kevin (with guides Emily and Emma)
Team Francois (with guides Tanya and Bella)
Team Chris (with guides Liz and Amanda)
Team Peggy (with guides Lisa and Karin)
Team Sophie (with guide Jermaine)
Team Maddy (with guides Catherine and Melinda)
Team Brooke (with guides Susie and Maeve)
Team Ness (with guides Julie C and Rhiannon)
Team Andrew C (with guides Lucy and Michael) – first big run event ever!
Team Haylee (with guide Vic)
Our mission is to enable people from all walks of life, including those with physical impairments, to enjoy the health giving benefits of walking and running in a supportive, social and encouraging environment.