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."
By Adrienne Knell
It started just like any other Sunday at the tan: everyone meeting at the usual Rotunda. Although this time, bags weren’t put down and K9s weren’t attached to chairs.
Shortly after 8:30am we packed up and took the short walk to the Pillars of Wisdom. What many didn’t know was that in just over an hour it would be a flurry of yellow shirts making a sprint finish along the very same path.
Arriving at the Clock Tower, the puppies got used to their new cage tethering spot and people eagerly checked the weather app to ensure that the rain was going to hold off for us.
After our Welcome to Country, the highly anticipated teams for the handicap were announced. VIPs met with their team mates and were put through a delightful warm up which provided insight into the Wednesday night strength class.
Then it was time.
Pairings were done. The BBQ was sizzling away in the background. And for many, they learned where the official start line of the tan began.
Haylee and Jeff were the first to set off on the 3.89km journey and were sent off with a roar from the crowd as the first count down was completed. Ness took off shortly after with Maegan, Sharon and Catherine.
Brooke was the third to head out on the track and had Amir and Sarah hot on her heels. Peggy had a short wait and felt the nerves building on the start line before she took off with Marie and Nicki with some PBs to smash.
The next moments were a hot mess at the start line with 4 competitors all flying off within 3 minutes of each other. Francois took off with powerhouse guides Nat and Sarah N knowing that just a minute behind him, new member, Bill, would be facing off with champion group Simon, Lara and Michelle.
Kevin was off in the next minute leaving Andrew with a two minute wait at the start line. Andrew and Emily were eager to set off, and Rhiannon had a strategy to use her Jingle Bells and Christmas cheer to those they would pass.
One person remained. Adam was cool, calm and collected as his guides took the time to warm up. A hill sprint here, a stretch there. Finally, 23 minutes after the initial gun, Chris, Jen, Sami and Adam were off and they had their work cut out for them.
All that was left at the start line was the time keeper and the paparazzi. Suddenly, around the corner came a sea of yellow shirts. It was impossible to tell who had the lead and the blur of yellow got bigger and bigger before out of the haze was Hazel & Josie guiding Bill to a strong win. Closely behind was Brooke with strong support from Monica and Jacinta and hot on her heels was Kevin with strong duo Tanya and Cayla.
And then it was done. There were many out of breath competitors showing that everyone had given it everything they had. But mostly, what I saw were a lot of smiles and comradery. Participants reported that there was overwhelming support for their friends out on the Tan track, and even though it’s cliché to say it, we were all winners out there. And now, we all have PBs to smash, a trophy to win and a title to defend.
I’d really like to thank everyone so much for giving it a go and getting behind the handicap. It was a wonderful day and I’m so proud to be part of Achilles.
Will – Handicap Time: 36 min 48 sec. Personal Time: 21 min 48 sec.
Brooke – Handicap Time: 37 min 12 sec. Personal Time: 33 min 12 sec.
Kevin - Handicap Time: 37 min 17 sec. Personal Time: 21 min 17 sec.
Andrew - Handicap Time: 37 min 54 sec. Personal Time: 21 min 17 sec.
Simon - Handicap Time: 38 min 26 sec. Personal Time: 23 min 26 sec.
Amir - Handicap Time: 39 min 22 sec. Personal Time: 31 min 22 sec.
Adam - Handicap Time: 39 min 28 sec. Personal Time: 16 min 28 sec.
Francois - Handicap Time: 39 min 34 sec. Personal Time: 25 min 34 sec.
Haylee - Handicap Time: 39 min 42 sec. Personal Time: 39 min 42 sec.
Peggy - Handicap Time: 40 min 53 sec. Personal Time: 28 min 53 sec.
Ness - Handicap Time: 41 min 16 sec. Personal Time: 40 mins 16 sec.
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.