Today I volunteered to run with Achilles International, a group of runners that act as volunteer guides to those running with disabilities in New York City.
I ran with “Nolen” (names in any case that I do not have the approval of use are protected with my honor to their privacy). My co-worker was initially paired with Nolen and advised that he would be running 6 miles. Mind you, my co-worker runs 3 miles on average per run, so when he nodded his head, and his eyes got wide, I smiled. He was allowing someone to push him to do something extraordinary, and I love to see that!
Then, the organizer of the group suggested he have a second guide. My co-worker selected me, knowing that after just finishing a half-marathon, I was more than able to run 6 miles at a 10-minute pace without breaking much of a sweat (my average time is something I am proud of because I have trained my body to perform at a 7:11 min /mile).
I smiled and walked over to meet Nolen before the three of us started our run. As we began, he held out a white nylon string that served as a tether, and I held this in my right hand as we started down the hill of Central Park on the east side. Talking to Nolen initially, he was excited and energetic with a speed of 8:49 min/mile. I joked that we were going faster than his pace, he told me to keep up. I chuckled and decided that if he were open to moving more quickly, I would empower that as best I could.
Running along, we didn’t talk about the head injury that caused his blindness. The scars showed a severe accident that had occurred for him a long time ago. He started to run almost two years ago this week, his birthday coming up soon, he would be thirty-eight.
What an incredible lesson at that moment I learned, age means nothing. We will adapt and learn new skills at all ages, and the journey we believe we are taking will continuously be re-routing us to new paths. Ones where we will meet people like Nolen that will show us, change is always the only option.
My co-worker and I spoke with Nolen about everything from his music to our zodiac signs. Nolen was from Brooklyn. He had lived there his whole life; I admitted I still had yet to explore Brooklyn. As we went up the hills and around the reservoir, Nolen stopped to walk a couple of times with his music not cooperating well with his Bluetooth speaker.
Another lesson: even the simplest things can frustrate us all no matter what our other struggles may be, as a marketer it is imperative I always seek to remove product complications from the lives of people like Nolen out in the world trying to get in a good run after a long day.
Once we got the music sorted out and walked for a bit, we started to talk about the bikes passing by and the noise. I asked him to move right so that he did not run on the bike path, and he moved closer to the left. As he stepped over, I asked him, “Is it true that when you lose your ability to see, your other senses increase?” He explained that they did in fact and hearing became extremely powerful once he lost his sight. Learning that I mentioned that it is kind of cool that he probably hears a lot of things we miss out on. The funny thing he responded with was, “No, as a runner those damn speakers are so loud at the starting line of a race that it is almost too overwhelming. All the other runners have headphones in, but for me, it is just loud.”
Again, I never thought about it, but as a half-marathon, 10k, and 5k competitor, I took into account how high stress those environments already are…imagine having a disability to heighten that stress further. Wow.
I apologized and told him that if he didn’t want to talk, let me know, and I would stop. He laughed and said that he didn’t mind at all.
Then, he wanted to switch our music from Jay-Z to Linkin Park. I swear we went through my entire college “Running Rap” playlist. I asked him why we were switching, and he said, “I am having a huge fight with the people I live with, and it is just that kind of day.” I nodded and said, “You know, I get that. I was having one of those experiences this morning on the subway.”
As we ran along the last couple miles, I appreciated Nolen. Nolen showed me a few things that I maybe knew, but had lost sight of until tonight…
While we may lose things over time, in place of what we lose, we find new inspirations to keep us going. We use those inspirations to build a community around us, and that is where we thrive.
Even the smallest things can throw us off of our game. It is so important that we realize, everyone is going through something we may not know about. Being able to help others when we can, is an extraordinary opportunity in itself.
Sometimes it is okay to have a hard day and need to go out and listen to whatever music you need, to get through it. Not every day will be smooth, beautiful, and full of Jay-Z…Somedays we need something or someone else to say, “I get it.” That makes all the difference.
Thanks to Achilles International for the opportunity to run with talented runners in New York City competing despite all obstacles that stand in their way!