By Rhiannon Boulger
After a speedy and sweaty lap of the Tan for the Achilles Christmas break-up Tan Handicap, a group of Achilleans stepped into the darkness at Dialogue in the Dark - a sensory experience tour of Melbourne in complete darkness.
I was looking forward to dipping a toe in to the city of Melbourne as experienced by a person with vision impairment, and what happened was a fun and educational, full-on sensory experience.
Our guide, Kate warned us that other senses may be heightened in total darkness, and that's true. We laughed as we accidentally walked into things and each other (sorry Jeff!)
In the moments we weren't given any direction, I would just stand back, feeling somewhat exposed and, at times, vulnerable in the unfamiliar environment surrounding me. This made me think of how motivated Achilles athletes are to hit the ground running without hesitation, but here I was, nervous to move.
I felt I had to ask Kate how she knew where we each were and how to direct us, and she said that she knows her surroundings so well, she could sense where we were. That in turn made me worry that perhaps my incessant warnings to Achilles athletes while running may be too much. Could it be overwhelming to try and comprehend my direction amongst the sounds and sensations they felt?
Throughout the tour you're encouraged to touch and feel the things around you, and even the ground under your feet feels patchy and uneven. At the end, Kate encouraged us to ask questions and discuss our experience. When asked if the ground in the exhibition reflected how it felt out in the city, Kate said it was pretty accurate. This again made me think of the experience of Achilles athletes, and perhaps too many warnings are better than not enough?
I learned a lot, as most of the tour was relevant to the knowledge needed as a guide. The experience and insight gained has given me the opportunity to reflect on the guide/athlete dynamic in a way that will help me to contribute to the success of our wonderful club to cover more of the city trails, and beyond.
...and here are a few more quotes from our Achilles guides who were on the tour:
"Being plunged into total darkness makes you rely on other senses and has highlighted to me how important verbal communication is. Our facial expressions add emphasis to our words and when that is not there, you need to be careful of word choice (ie. no-one saw my cheeky wink when I said we all stank after running around The Tan )"
"It was thought provoking, challenging, & somewhat confronting and it leaves me a little in awe with what the VIPs go through each day with their lives.
Ifeel very humbled that I have the privilege to be Achilles Guide the last year or so.
I'll definitely want to spruik DITD as I feel it is important that everyone should be more compassionate to our fellow people with any special needs, be it physical or mental issues."
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.