By Amanda Kwong
Shift. Pivot. Be nimble. Isolate.
Before 2020, these words would be synonymous to gearing our bodies towards being better runners, being agile, growing strong. Now, they hold an obvious alternate meaning related to all the challenges that 2020 and COVID-19 threw at Achilles Melbourne. Nearing the end of our 5th year in operation, Achilles Melbourne was set to rule another year that kicked off with some strong performances from runner-turned-human-fish, Maddy in the Pier to Pub, Andrew C asserting his presence on the athletics track, and Chris C raising a healthy packet of funds running the Two Bays trail running festival. The only thing we thought that COVID-19 was set to ruin was the shipment of our club shirts from China, at which point I remember distinctly imploring our members for patience and sympathy for the plight of those dealing with the virus overseas. Little did we know...
Though, at this time of year, we still focus on the positives. And heck, there were so many that I don't know where to begin.
This year, I saw Achilles Melbourne's online presence grow substantially. While using our online social media and forums was previously about celebrating what members had achieved, and what was to come in future weeks, we instead used this to connect and motivate. With the first lockdown, online challenge after online challenge was thrown at our members who took these up with gusto. A special thank-you to anyone who coordinated a challenge, Amy for rustling up support to get challenge setters involved, Rhi for keeping the online heart-beat fresh and positive, and to all those who participated and egged each other on. We also managed to design our very own Steigen sock with the help of Chris C to keep the merchandise interests of the club in its full Lycra(TM) glory.
Strength Wednesdays moved to an online format, which was a welcome change to traipsing out into the cold, dark nights of Melbourne winter to our much loved Multicultural Hub. With the new format, we were able to include more participants, who otherwise may have struggled to travel to the city for our key cross training weekly fixture. A big thank-you to Sarah A and Deb C for keeping our members strong, and outgoing super coach, Catherine N. It might be worth mentioning here that our top three winners for the Tan Handicap (Claudia S, Peggy S, Maddy S) are all strength attendees. Perhaps we have a secret ingredient for a winning performance?
We also must not forget that some running events actually did take place with the Pride Run and Run Warrandyte a resounding success (a hat tip to coordinator, Heather M). Whether we will be able to coordinate events with our flair of efficiency will remain a mystery into 2021. Perhaps if they involve an online challenge or two... We also acknowledge some incredible running efforts this year. A few particular recent efforts stand out: Jenny B's maiden half marathon in under 2 hours, with only a friend on a bike, two Achilles guides (cheers, Bronson and Wes!), and a shining yellow beacon of Monica W as a cheer squad on a downpour-threatening easing lockdown day. Further, anyone who witnessed our members bossing the battle ropes at our combined nokkon-Achilles International Day of People with Disability event should know to tread carefully around our exceptionally strong members. That, and Claudia S's stunning Tan Handicap win for 2020, where months of keeping fit and active through lockdown truly paid off. Mastermind handicap setter, Adrienne K, did well with scant data available to hold our handicap this year.
And through our lockdown months, our volunteers shone bright. There are many who kept offering to guide, and those who stayed home to keep others safe - both are thanked in equal measure. We highlighted the contributions from our volunteers of the month for 2021: Sarah A, Julie B, Michelle W, Emily H, Sophie T, Amy B, Maddy S, Monica W. We also had a changing of the guard (the committee) with special thanks to outgoing members, Heather M, Peggy S, Amir A, and Nicky H, and welcomed in their place: Simon B, Max C, Joe G, and Sophie T. Those who kept the administrative cogs of Achilles ever ticking, we also thank ongoing committee, Maddy S, Ness S, Amy B, Karen B, Simon W, Rhiannon R.
But of course, the biggest thanks goes to you, our members. Your enthusiasm through lockdown, the Achilles Cup, reaching out to one another, wielding a credit card our way to buy a pair of socks or two, staying home to keep each other safe, and always willing to do what was necessary to comply with the constantly moving feast of government restrictions and hygiene measures. Yes, this year was always going to be tough, but when you've got members of the best running club in Melbourne* (*biased opinion), it makes implementing necessary changes and measures incredibly easy.
Nimble. Ever-shifting. Ready to connect. We'll be here with you again in 2021, in whatever shape it takes. #GoAchilles
- AmyJULY - Sophie T
Congratulations to Sophie T! Sophie has been nominated for a number of reasons: we are incredibly thankful for her online presence through COVID19, assisting with online challenges and remaining engaged with others over the last few months. Sophie always has positive words of encouragement to share, and has also been a necessary voice to represent the views of our members with disability. During non-COVID times, Sophie has assisted with Sunday coordinating and always manages to pitch in with whatever help she can offer for our community fundraising activities, including sizzling the odd sausage (oh, those were the days!).
Pictured is Sophie completing the event of her dreams (the Rocky Run - related to Rocky, the movie) in Philadelphia. She stands at the finish line with a Rocky-like double fist pump in the air and a medal slung around her neck, like the true champion she is!
Congratulations, Sophie, and thank you for everything that you do.
AUGUST - Amy
If you haven't met Amy yet, Amy is one of our Achilles Melbourne committee members. While she has only been in the role for less than a year, Amy truly understands and embodies the values of Achilles Melbourne.
Amy B is our August Volunteer of the Month as she has taken initiative to kick off some of our most popular virtual challenges in lockdown. She's been responsible for scheduling other challenges and has hosted some challenges herself. She is a committee member who provides essential insights on behalf of all members, but particularly for our members with disability.
You can normally find Amy at Sunday training either coordinating, or running along the banks of the Yarra river. Currently, you can find her online on our Facebook member's forum.
Thank-you, Amy for keeping us motivated during lockdowns, and for bringing your pragmatic and hard-working attitude to the Achilles Melbourne family.
SEPTEMBER - MADDY
Maddy was nominated for coordinating Sunday training during "normal" times and our Achilles strength group in a leadership role. Maddy also takes care of all merchandise orders, and is a committee member in an essential role for Achilles as a club. While in lockdown, Maddy has also taken part in Pawgust with her guide dog Zelda, walking many kms in their local area together to raise funds for Guide Dogs Vic.
Maddy is Achilles Melbourne's co-Treasurer, an unsung hero of Achilles; she fields endless enquiries and hasn't lost pace even through COVID. Maddy has also broken barriers by swimming really long distances (Pier to Pub), riding really long distances (Round the Bay) and running really, really far (always up for a good ol' 10k event...but just ask her how far she's willing to go in the future!).
Thank you Maddy for everything that you do!
OCTOBER - Monica
We've awarded Monica as our Volunteer of the Month because, apart from being willing to dress up in FULL Achilles get up to cheer on Jenny B for her first half marathon (while we're here, let's not steal Jenny's thunder either and note that she smashed her first ever 21k run with Wes and Bronson in under 2 hours!! ...now back to Monica so we don't steal her thunder too...), Monica has also been continuing to guide through lockdown, provide some great contributions to our iso challenges, and is always happy to jump in at the last minute during Sunday training sessions when we occasionally fall short of guides. Not only this, but she's also been instrumental in the success of previous fundraising efforts, giving encouraging nudges to small businesses to donate food and goods for the benefit of Achilles.
During normal times, you can find Monica guiding at parkruns on Saturdays, guiding at Achilles on Sundays, or doing Tai Chi in places you'd least suspect. She's not hard to find though - just look out for the running beacon of yellow and give her an air high-five when you next see her running along the yarra!
Congratulations, Monica, and thank-you for everything you do.
Congratulations to Emily H Achilles Melbourne's volunteer of the month for June 2020!
Emily has been guiding with Achilles for just over a year. Since she's joined Achilles, she's been a regular attendee, never says no to an athletics track session to our track enthusiasts, and happy to slot in wherever she is needed. Emily is an active member online and is always happy to offer to run with others, travel to them, going above and beyond where needed - and always with a smile! Emily is always ready to contribute to her partners' runs in a positive way and manages to balance a great run chat with safe and accurate guide cues.
Emily can be found at Sunday training (when it happens), or currently around the running trails of Melbourne with super duo Francois and/or Kevin.
Thank you for everything you do, Emily!
Congratulations to Michelle Wong Achilles Melbourne's volunteer of the month for May.
Michelle started guiding with us in 2019. While she hasn't been with us for that long, we recognise her hard work and effort with guiding and being so approachable. Michelle: no matter how small it seems, your efforts haven't gone unnoticed and you've been a great friend to all.
Michelle was set to run with Peggy in the Great Ocean Road Running Festival in May earlier this year. However, some kind of global pandemic happened to get in the way of the duo's hopes to conquer this run. While it wasn't to be this year, we look forward to Michelle's future guiding feats as she continues to embody the spirit of Achilles Melbourne.
Thank you, Michelle!
Congratulations to Julie Baker, Achilles Melbourne's volunteer of the month for April (better late than never!)
Julie has been a solid guide with Achilles since 2018. She is generous with her time and commonly reaches out to runners in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. She recently celebrated her 50th parkrun, and yes, is a parkrun enthusiast. She guides regularly at Gardiner's Creek parkrun (pictured here with VIP Wendy and running partner in crime, Sonia R), and also at Achilles Sunday training. Julie also helped guide a runner who was visiting from the US in 2019 and gave him a bit of a running tour of Melbourne before guiding him through the iconic Run for the Kids.
Thank you, Julie, for all that you do and helping our runners to stay fit, active, and engaged in parkrun!
March has been an incredibly testing time for everyone. We want to say a massive thank you to everyone who has reached out to a fellow Achilles member, offered shopping support, had a good old fashioned phone call, or helped with staying active.
This month's Achilles Melbourne Volunteer of the Month goes to Sarah Allport - supercoach. She has been instrumental in keeping morale high in the Achilles Strength, and wider Achilles Melbourne group. She's provided some practical advice, as well as led some online workout sessions. In normal times, Sarah has been one of our three stalwart coacheteers alongside Deb Christie and Catherine Noone. She's coached a few of our members into long distance runs, and helped shaped our Wednesday Achilles Strength sessions. She also helps with Sunday Coordinating, and the unsung hero of carting Achilles equipment and shirts around Melbourne.
You can find Sarah at Sunday Achilles sessions and leading Wednesday strength sessions (when they're back up and running in real life!) as well as online via our Facebook groups during virtual workouts.
Thank you Sarah, for all that you have done for Achilles Melbourne.
By Peggy Soo
On 1st March some of our Achilles teams went to leafy Warrandyte to run amongst the trees, trails and squawking birds for the Run Warrandyte Running Festival.
We had a number of enthusiastic teams running from 15km to 5km. The course was a mix of trail and road run. This really tested the guiding skills of our guides due to the unpredictable nature of the course of rocks under our feet (lots of high knees and lifting feet).
Along the run it was greet to hear the sounds of birds, running waterfalls and feeling the trees and leaves brush past. We were cheered on by lovely volunteers who gave directions, water and cheered us along the way. Such a different atmosphere to our city streets.
We were also joined by South African blind runner, Carl, who took in the smells and sounds of beautiful Warrandyte. You can check out his experience through the lens of his GoPro, commentary, and Rhiannon's guiding here.
I would like to express my thanks and gratitude to everyone who helped make this event possible. Of course our amazing guides did a wonderful job with a very challenging course. Thank you to Deb for organising logistics on the day and being our support crew and thank you to Heather for all the ‘behind the scenes’ work you have put into this with pairings, registrations and helping us with car pooling.
Caption: Four photos above show (top left, clockwise): Julie walking with Maysa with a hand tether on a sunny day around the Tan with second guide, Eleanor. Julie stands to the side of a BBQ with Amanda and Jacinta; Julie within a group selfie with strength participants with a lake behind the group; Julie guides a new guide (Pam, not so new anymore!) who is blindfolded down a step.
Volunteer of the Month is back! At Achilles, we appreciate our volunteers in all shapes and sizes, so we're bringing back Volunteer of the Month to highlight some of our volunteers who go above and beyond to help Achilles achieve great things.
This month's volunteer of the month goes to Julie Clifton. Congratulations!
Why we love Julie: Julie has been running with Achilles since 2016 and was the first to suggest Janet Lady Clarke Rotunda as a new meeting spot for our rapidly growing club. Julie has always been there to assist when we need in any capacity. She's happy to run, walk, keep our furry friends company, or help train new guides. Julie also trains with some of our athletes in the middle of the week from time to time. Julie has also been instrumental in helping some of our athletes find their feet when they've needed extra mobility assistance to get from A to B, and as a result has helped some of our athletes remain in touch with Achilles. She's also always been keen to lend a hand during community fundraisers (i.e. she's a machine behind a sausage sizzle!).
Where can I say congrats to Julie? Julie can be found on most Wednesdays at strength sessions, and now and again at Sunday training.
From all of us at Achilles, thank you, Julie for everything you do!
Would you like to nominate a volunteer for volunteer of the month? Contact any of our committee, or email Melbourne@achillesaustralia.org.au Please tell us why they should be nominated and where the volunteer does most of their guiding.
A word from the President, Amanda:
…and just like that, another year has run off into the distance and into the next decade. Before we kick-start the 2020 vision-related pun fest that we will without doubt capitalise on, we’re taking this chance to reflect on the past year’s achievements.
The usual suspects of events were run: Wangaratta Fun Run, Run for the Kids, Puffing Billy, Wings for Life, Stadium Stomp, Run Melbourne, Sandy Point, Melbourne Marathon, Eureka Climb with a healthy representation from Achilles Melbourne at each major event. There were new runners stepping up to longer events: William K completing the full marathon at Melbourne Marathon, and Peggy and Penny completing the half marathon at the same event.
Going from strength to strength was our Strength Wednesdays group, finding an indoor location for the winter to continue with their exercising efforts. Yet again, Achilles created opportunities for exercise in a socially inclusive space, with big thanks to our coaches Deb, Sarah and Catherine who made this possible.
Some athletes began to push the boundaries of their athletic ability. Maddy kicked off the year by completing Pier to Pub, with strong rumours for a repeat performance in 2020. Sean also hit the water for the Williamstown open water challenge early in 2019. Adam, Chris and Maddy also tested out their riding skills at the MS bike ride, and also Maddy who pushed her boundaries further by riding with Rhi at Around the Bay. New territory was also explored with Maddy and Sophie testing our their trail feet at Run Forrest, and Eamon and Melinda went exploring to regional runs in Castlemaine and Portland, while Brooke headed to Canberra for the Australian Running Festival. Even further afield, was Sophie, who completed the Rocky Run in the USA, and myself, I caught up with past Achilleans in Birmingham, UK (Stu) and Mannheim, Germany (Martin and Svenja). Achilles Mornington Peninsula also kicked off this year, and is set to return in 2020 for all our south-east and Peninsula-dwelling Melbournians. Achilleans showed their support for the LGBTQI+ community by running alongside the Melbourne Frontrunners at the Pride Run and also hosted a guide session with the Melbourne Frontrunners this year.
While previous years have focussed on participating in mainstream fun run events, Achilles Melbourne has recognised the importance of participating in local social events. Guide Rhiannon has lead the way in forging connections between Achilles and Melbourne Instarunners, as well as the 605 Run Club. Andrew C has also discovered keen enthusiasm for track and field athletics, and now puts his guides through their paces by completing push-ups and burpees during his training runs! Guide Karin, aka “The Plastic Runner” has also flown the inclusion flag, welcoming Achilles athletes, with Peggy being the first Achilles athlete with a disability to participate in a plogging run. Achilles Melbourne also tested out the Trail Bus, heading out towards Lorne in an accessible trail running adventure.
We also wouldn’t be real runners if our continued participation in parkrun didn’t grow. We hosted guide training at Gardiner’s Creek parkrun this year, and held our first parkrun volunteer takeover, which coincided with my own personal parkrun milestone: 25 volunteer runs, of which around 12 have been as an “official” VI guide. Others achieved parkrun milestones: 50 runs for Kevin, Francois, Maysa, and Jordie.
Our biggest event yet, hosting around 20 running teams including two teams from Achilles Sydney and Canberra, and a visitor from Perth, at the Great Ocean Road Marathon. Running events away from home are not always accessible to people with a disability who may have limited resources to attend such events. Seeing everyone have a chance to get to know each other better, share a meal, and have the time and space to cheer each other on confirmed the importance of the social connections that are formed through Achilles. It’s been exciting for me to watch our club grow, both socially and physically. For example, I definitely could not have picked the winner for our second handicap (congratulations, Peggy!). The determination and mutual encouragement of our members, and the commitment and passion from our sighted guides is enough to spur each other on to achieve the best we can for each other. It is for this reason that we will continue our efforts to ensure that Achilles can keep offering life-changing opportunities to lead a lifestyle that is healthy, active, and socially connected.
Through the eyes and feet of Francois Jacobs and Michelle Joison, we experience two different Melbourne Achilles teams as they climbed up the Eureka tower last Sunday 17th of November.
By Francois Jacobs
Through firsthand experience in the ups and downs of job seeking I know how physical activity can keep up the motivation and overall wellbeing. So I have been a regular participant in the weekly circuit training provided by Blind Sports and Recreation Victoria at the Hawthorn Aquatics and Leisure Centre. There I met the personal trainer Bob and the amazing crew of BSRV volunteers and soon also began personal training with him. When I heard about the Eureka Stair Climb it sounded like just the motivation I needed to set a personal goal for myself. When I learnt that Bob had done it before and enjoyed it immensely it became a done deal. He knew this super fit crazy fitness fanatic called Adrian who would do things like sign up for a 210km cycle event on the spot, so Adrian was recruited on the spot to be my Eureka guide.
From beginning October we started incorporating twice a week workouts on the Stair Master which I soon started calling the “Stair Monster”. It was gruelling and it never got any easier, but over time I realised that it made me a much better runner up Anderson Street on Sundays with Achilles.
On Saturday night I felt convinced that I’m not ready, typical for the pre-race nerves that comes with inexperience but hey, I thought, there’s many others just like myself so let’s just do it.
The weather on Sunday morning was perfect and the company even better. Fellow Achilleans Kevin and Karen would start in the same wave as me with my two member crew, and before I knew it we were off. We passed a few climbers, and a few others passed us, but it was such a friendly affair, and everybody just encouraged everybody else all the way up.
The view at the top… I don’t know much about that, but what I do know is that I very much felt like I was on top of the world when we reached the sky deck in under 20 minutes. What surprised me most was on Monday morning when I realised that I wasn’t even sore at all. Personal trainer Bob was obviously good at his job!
Thanks to all our supporters, some with donations to the Fred Hollows Foundation, some stopping by to say hi at the Stair Monster and some with messages of encouragement on Facebook. You all made us feel like we’re doing something worthwhile.
By Michelle Joison
"Today I challenged myself to walk up 88 flights of stairs guiding Haylee, who has about 5% vision, while representing Achilles and of course, supporting the Fred Hollows Foundation.
As we arrived at the event, we were greeted by dozens of hot, sweaty climbers who had just completed the climb. Most of them had smiles of accomplishment, which was reassuring, but some looked exhausted, which made us a little nervous. I was starting to get a grasp of how hard this event could be. I was guiding Haylee, who has completed this event twice before, so in a way she was guiding me as it was my first time.
We started our ascent and the stair well was fairly empty - at one stage I had to check that we were in the correct stair well! Pretty soon we heard voices and realised all was well. Each flight of 16 - 20 stairs took us up to another floor, and every 3 flights or so we would stop so Haylee could catch her breath, compose herself and take off again. We met plenty of other climbers along the way, and greeted most of them with words of encouragement or jokes, mostly along the lines of ‘there’s no turning back!‘ or ‘it’s all uphill from here!’
Time passed quickly, and before we knew it we were at the 44th floor, the half way point, where we felt like we had overcome a big mental hurdle. Every climber had their own story: some felt they hadn’t trained enough, some cruised through almost effortlessly and others questioned why they were putting themselves through this. Haylee had no doubt that she could complete the climb for the third time, and she paced herself well - climbing steadily, then resting and drinking when needed. I was happy to support her at whatever pace suited her. Haylee gained so much confidence from the climb that she was able to let go of the hand rail for the last 10 floors or so.
Others on the climb found Haylee was their inspiration. ‘If she can do it, so can I!’ One climber was close to giving up before the half way mark, and we were so happy to meet her at the finish line with the biggest smile, saying that we were what kept her going.
On the 88th floor, we were greeted by dozens of climbers cheering, cameras flashing and volunteers placing medals around our necks. The much anticipated view at the top was a great reward and a perfect chance to allow the heart rate to slow down and leg muscles to relax while admiring the stunning views across Melbourne.
The athletes with vision impairment have once again given me so much inspiration and reminded me that we can all gain so much from these experiences by tuning into and sharpening all our senses, not just our vision."
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.