A Message from our President
“Achilles is not just about the running. It’s about inclusion, about having a source of support, about making the impossible possible, accepting people regardless of our differences- in fact we celebrate differences. As another runner said, ‘When I run, I feel free.’”
– Irwin Ramirez, President, Achilles Washington DC
What a wonderful way to describe Achilles! This month I would like to dedicate my introductory note to our volunteers. We could not do what we do without the endless passion and selfless commitment of our volunteers who not only guide our athletes, but also lead chapters throughout the world.
Below is a great article written by Nina-Maria Potts, Director of Global News Coverage for Feature Story News and one of our DC Chapter volunteers. Nina’s article helps illustrate the unique bond between athletes and guides. She describes it in terms of “partnership” -- one that includes navigating hills, uneven terrain and potholes for the athlete and the challenges of measuring or describing obstacles and hurdles to a blind or visually impaired runner, “clearing a pathway” to ensure the athlete’s safety. Guides also help keep our athletes motivated with encouraging words -- even interesting stories and humor -- especially during a long run. Another equally valued dimension to being a guide, aside from the shared loved of running, is “the camaraderie, the friendships and an understanding that develops between us”.
Thank you, Nina, and everyone who helps make Achilles work.
Casting a Light on What It Means to be an Achilles Volunteer
By Nina-Maria Potts
That Washington is a runner’s city (with its impressive range of city trails) is no secret. That a growing group of competitive blind runners (and their guides) now regularly pound its streets, is less well known.
Twice a week, the group heads down to the National Mall, weaving its way through a mass of office workers and commuter traffic to get to the Reflecting Pool where they’ve been racking up the miles since August 2018. Their neon yellow Achilles shirts often attract the attention of other runners, who’ll stop and ask how to join. It’s always a moment of quiet pride: that we made it out there once again, whatever the odds. That sense of pride deepened when we crossed the Rock n’ Roll finishing line on March 9th.
Achilles International’s D.C. Chapter saw an unprecedented turnout of about 50 athletes and their guides, according to Chapter President, Irwin Ramirez. “The course was more challenging than expected with rolling hills throughout,” he says, insisting that only made the experience more rewarding. Hills don’t worry Ramirez, who has finished seven marathons. He says overcoming them is part of the reward.
For guides though, hills can be tough to negotiate. It’s often hard to measure and describe how steep a hill is, or how far the athlete has left to go -- something sighted runners take for granted. Even more stressful are D.C.’s many potholes and uneven terrain. Visually-impaired runner Qudsiya Naqui, says that’s why having a guide team can make all the difference. “I had one person hold the tether and do the actual guiding, and two people who ran ahead to clear the path.”
Qudsiya suffers from progressive vision loss due to a congenital retinal condition, but has been running since she was eleven. Supported by Bryan Lam and first-time guide Heather Dougherty, Qudsiya set a personal best by 12 minutes at 2:06.
For Susanne Navas, the half-marathon marked her first race as a guide. She was nervous beforehand, partly because she knew it was so popular. Susanne wondered whether she should have driven the course ahead of time to get to know the route. The potholes were disconcerting, and she worried when her blind partner, Tori Kalinsky, began to experience knee trouble. An experienced athlete, Susanne has completed numerous half and full marathons, as well as two Ironman triathlons. Still, she says, the experience of crossing the finishing line with Tori, arms aloft, was an incredible feeling. “It was super fun! Being able to help Tori experience it, lending her my eyes for it, was an unforgettable experience.” For even the most experienced guides, offering mental support is as important as visual and verbal cues.
Ron Batcher accompanied Philip Ashley (who’s been running for more than 20 years) for the Rock n’ Roll half marathon. “We pushed Philip hard towards the end and wouldn’t let his mind tell his body to stop. Crossing the finish line was such a positive feeling knowing our team had helped him attain a personal record.” Philip has completed twelve half-marathons, four marathons and an Olympic triathlon. He lost his sight due to glaucoma at the age of eleven. He started at a sports camp for blind teenagers and has been running in earnest since his college days in Michigan. On moving to D.C. he started entering races, saying running relieves daily stresses, and allows him to talk about sport with sighted people.
Visually-impaired runner, Lori Pierce, committed early to the half-marathon. We had been training together for several months by the time we crossed the finishing line, with experienced guide, Patricia Chadwick, who christened us “the Badass Streakers”. Lori endured cramp and nausea towards the end of the race, but kept going with iron determination. Holding her hand as we crossed the finishing line was very emotional. I discovered that staying positive was half the battle -- it helped too that we were running alongside a guy who was a hardcore Caps fan and juggling three ice-hockey sticks as he ran.
It was the atmosphere among the runners and volunteers that made all the difference for first-time guide, Carlos Arismendi. “It was great to see how well prepared everyone was, the athleticism of all the runners, the commitment of other volunteers and just the culture of athletes with disabilities.” Supporters on the sidelines shouted “Go Achilles” as we made our way through Washington’s backstreets. One woman stopped to say she thought guides do an incredible job. Just as I was basking in the compliment, Lori nearly tripped because I’d failed to see a pothole. Lori was very forgiving.
DC’s Rock n’ Roll half-marathon course begins on the Mall and winds its way alongside the Potomac before turning up through the guts of Rock Creek Park. A steep hill gives way to the flat plank connecting Adams Morgan to Columbia Heights. The residents of brightly painted town houses offered beverages and cheers for those who were fading.
I wondered what Lori must be feeling as we neared mile eight, with five more to go. I realized too, how much I rely on mile markers to boost my morale. I shut my eyes briefly, as I’ve done on solo training runs to feel just a fraction of the sensation of running blind. It’s not for the faint-hearted.
Qudsiya Naqui says she doesn’t like to know where she is because it helps her psychologically to keep moving forward. “I asked my team to notify me at the 6-mile mark, the 10-mile mark, and the finish line. I definitely felt like I was hitting the wall around 10 miles. But everyone was so encouraging, I just gritted my teeth and kept moving.”
There’s another dimension to guiding, which I only realized after the race -- when we stood huddled together eating pizza. There’s the shared love of running; but there’s also the camaraderie, the friendships, and an understanding that develops between us.
That sense of mutual support lies at the heart of Achilles International, according to Irwin Ramirez. He started running as a teenager, but as his sight deteriorated, Irwin started to rely on guides. While at college in New York, he joined the Achilles Manhattan Chapter which enabled him to run the New York City Marathon in 2014. Irwin says Achilles is not just about the running. “It’s about inclusion, about having a source of support, about making the impossible possible, accepting people regardless of our differences- in fact we celebrate differences. As another runner said, “When I run, I feel free.”
The feeling of euphoria -- and freedom -- is familiar to all runners. The rock bands staggered along the course also helped.
That moment, at the finishing line, marked not just victory, but a unity of mission for our group: it’s been difficult to get a consistent, committed team of guides and runners together, because D.C.’s population is so transient. That’s according to Karla Gilbride, who’s been instrumental in reinvigorating Achilles in the nation’s capital. Karla has been blind her whole life and recently completed her first triathlon.
For anyone interested in becoming an Achilles D.C. guide, Karla has some useful pointers: “A good guide is someone who can react quickly to obstacles and unexpected things that happen along the course. That includes letting me know what’s coming up while staying calm (because nerves can be contagious). I also like hearing about interesting things we’re passing along the route, so an ability to describe the surroundings in colorful terms is definitely a plus. A sense of humor or interesting stories to tell is always appreciated, especially on long runs!”
Achilles International D.C. Chapter owes its existence to Irwin Ramirez and Karla Gilbride, who keep the group motivated, committed and organized.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE VISIT: https://www.facebook.com/AchillesInternationalDC/
Don’t Forget to Check out our Achilles E-Store!
In conjunction with our premium apparel partner Champion System, a worldwide leader in custom technical apparel, new pieces and Achilles classics are now available for purchase here.
Don't forget, if you shop at Amazon please shop at https://smile.amazon.com. When you shop here, the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to the charitable organization of your choice. Be sure to select Achilles! This can generate a lot of money if we can make it a simple habit for the 10,000 people on our mailing list + thousands of others in our personal social media contacts. Thank you!
JOIN ACHILLES IN THE
2019 TCS NEW YORK CITY MARATHON
Achilles International is delighted to once again be part of the 2019 TCS New York City Marathon Charity Program. We have a limited number of guaranteed bibs. If you are interested in joining us to run and raise funds in support of adults and children with disabilities, please contact Fiona McKinney firstname.lastname@example.org
For more details on being a Charity Entrant click HERE.
We would love to have you on our Team. #GoAchilles! #GoYou! #TCSNYCMarathon
UNITED AIRLINES NYC HALF MARATHON
The luck of the Irish was with Achilles on St. Patrick's Day as 40 Achilles athletes and 19 charity runners made their way over the Manhattan Bridge, through the heart of Times Square and to the finish line in Central Park at the United Airlines NYC Half. Among the finishers was Maximilian Lupa, running his first ever Half Marathon! He was accompanied by loyal Achilles guides Courtney Hindle and David Honick, who helped Maxi train through many cold winter runs leading up to race day. Happy and hungry runners and guides gathered after the race at Gabriela's on the Upper West Side with many showing off their well-earned medals and celebrating crushing 13.1 miles in the cold!
Eliza Cooper and Francesco Magisano completed the first international race of the 2019 season at the CAM Tri Paratriathlon American Championships. Eliza finished with a time of 1:19:43, which is a FOUR-minute PR!!! This was Francesco’s second triathlon. He is now an internationally ranked triathlete with a time of 1:12:53. Eliza, Francesco and Charles Catherine plan to compete in three other international events this year as they try to qualify for the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo Japan! We are so proud of them!
FREEDOM TEAM + L.A. MARATHON
Once again, Achilles athletes, both civilian and Freedom Team (35 to be exact!) brought the sunshine to LA during the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon. It is worth noting that this race has always shown a strong vision of inclusion. All athletes with disabilities, be it military or civilian, runners with guides, handcycles, racing chairs, duos etc., are welcome and encouraged to persevere through those 26.2 miles and cross that finish line safely and proudly. Of course, there is always room to improve – but we are honored to work with the Go Conqur staff and appreciate their can-do/will-do attitudes! Pre-race, athletes and families were hosted by the historically amazing Los Angeles Fire Department for an equipment tune-up and legendary Mexican feast. We were also thrilled to partner with extended family from the Gary Sinise Foundation to ensure a smooth and successful race for the men and women that both our organizations work to serve. Race day proved to be happy and satisfying for all participants! We are extra proud to have hosted Freedom Team stud, Adam Popp, as he and guides David Sheehy and Drew Shackleton took on the course championing Popp to a PR! A 3:29! Pretty impressive – especially for a single-above-knee-amputee! Endless thanks to LAFD’s Adam Walker, Captain (Ret.) Greg Malais, and Mark Carcamo for your dedication over the past 14 years. Also, a giant thank you to our generous supporters from the DAV Charitable Trust and our title sponsors from the GM Military Discount. Wonderful progress is being made because of all that you give!
Achilles Connecticut came out of winter hibernation at the Bradley Road Race on March 30th, with 17 athletes and 22 guides participating! The race director, Windsor Locks Lions Club, included an article about Achilles in the race booklet. On April 15th, Manny Jimenez (Achilles Freedom Team member), Krys Zybowski and Harry McKinstry will represent the Connecticut Chapter in the Boston Marathon. While Krys and Manny are veteran racers, this will be Harry’s 1st time in Boston, qualifying in the mobility impaired division with a 5:01 marathon last October in the Eversource Hartford Marathon. Harry has been training outside all winter with guides Monte Wagner, Michelle Desmarais, and Jimena Dolzadelli to get ready for Heartbreak Hill. Also on April 28th, twenty-one Achilles Connecticut athletes will be heading to their first half marathon of the season--the Ion Bank Cheshire Half Marathon & 5K.
Achilles CT will be holding its 4th annual Hope & Possibility® 5K/10K on July 21st. All Chapters are welcome! If any athlete would like to join us for the race, email email@example.com to get our Achilles discount code! Connecticut makes a great place to visit in the summer!
ACHILLES OTTAWA, CANADA
The Achilles Ottawa Chapter is offering support and help to the Visually Impaired Community during Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend 2019. Dates: May 24th – 26th 2019. Contact the chapter at firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the list! The chapter is providing logistics support, a pre-race meal, a post-race massage, guide dog-sitting, secure storage, and a peaceful and friendly space to prepare and relax before and after the races. Thanks to a generous donation by TELUS, Achilles Ottawa will have a secure, indoor facility available for all runners that is only 1 km from the start line.
Achilles Ottawa volunteers will host a pasta dinner with potluck treats on Friday night, provide a calm and secure place to allow athletes to prepare and relax before and after the 5K and 10K Saturday races and before and after the Sunday half and full marathons Volunteers will also provide service dog sitters and help getting to and from the airport, train station, or bus station if needed. There is also a social gathering on Saturday night! This is a great time to meet out-of-towners and locals and the tremendously supportive Achilles Ottawa organization. Contact email@example.com to get on the list.
VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH: (Adult Program)
Congratulations to Jessie Rix! Jessie grew up in Fergus Fall, MN and dreamt of one day running across the Brooklyn Bridge. Since joining Achilles in 2016, she has achieved that several times over and guided our athletes through several marathons and other races! In 2018 and continuing into 2019, Jessie became quite the media darling with some wonderful articles about her and Anthony Butler. Thank you, Jessie, for everything you do for Achilles. We are truly grateful!
“Being a guide for an Achilles athlete is a huge responsibility. It is sometimes challenging. But, it is also an incredibly rewarding and fun experience! …. Achilles is fun, informal and social. People of all abilities -- running or walking -- can participate!” – Jessie Rix
To read more about Jessie, please click HERE
To nominate someone as Volunteer of the Month, please email FIONA.
Jessie and Anthony in “Runner’s World” February 2019
ACHILLES KIDS VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH:
Congratulations to Angie Musco, Achilles Kids Volunteer of the Month. Angie joined Achilles in 2013 guiding one of our (adult) members, Joe Bellantoni in his – and her – first marathon. The Achilles Kids workouts in Central Park began a year later and Angie has not stopped since... guiding our Kids every weekend and now leading the program as Achilles Kids Central Park Program Coordinator. Angie is also an actor, writer, producer, and author. Her first children’s book The Face Behind the Mask, a biography about the first and only woman to play in the NHL, is due out in Fall 2020. Thank you Angie for everything you continue to do for Achilles Kids!
“I love every time we have new kids who think (or their parents think) they “aren’t runners” and then the kids cross the finish line in waaaay less time than they had imagined! The look on their faces when they realize they did it, they made it around, they ran – they are runners – that’s priceless!” – Angie Musco
To read more about Angie, click HERE
To nominate an Achilles Kids Volunteer of the Month, please contact Karen
April 14: Indoor Marathon 10 am
May 3 to 5: Crystal Springs Paratriathlon Clinic
May 18: USA North East Regional / Got The Nerve Triathlon
June 9: Stafford Run for Hope Sprint - Tri, Duathlon and Aquathlon (swim, bike), Manahawkin, NJ
June 23: 17th Annual NYC Hope & Possibility® 4M
July 20: Para Nationals
July 21: New York City Triathlon (Olympic)