Editor’s Note: After receiving so much positive response about a March 1 column about Corvin Bazgan, Julia Blanton decided to write a second column about her experiences running with the legally-blind athlete. The column is available at www.pressbanner.com by searching “Running Blind.”
Ultimately, our goal was to finish faster than last time, but truthfully we both hoped to accomplish much more. It would be my second time guiding Corvin Bazgan, a 38-year-old athlete who is progressively losing his vision and hearing due to Usher Syndrome, for a half marathon.
Despite his physical challenges, Corvin does not feel handicapped. On the contrary, he believes that he has “many advantages to help offset [his] loss of vision and hearing” and intends to lead a very “productive life for many years to come.” He commutes everyday via Caltrain from San Carlos to San Jose where he works for a software company as a Director of Software Development. Corvin finds it easiest to view his computer monitor when he uses a black background with enlarged white text. Growing up, his parents helped him by guiding him at night and ensuring that he understood what was spoken. Nonetheless, Corvin says they helped him most by simply loving him.
With another six months of training under our belts and the experience of having raced on this exact course, we believed we could realistically beat our previous time by three minutes. Although, if everything lined up perfectly, there was a chance we could achieve our stretch goal of a 1 hour, 45 minute finish, smashing our prior time of 1:51:31 by more than six minutes.
The day before the race, Corvin and I finalized our strategy. We wrapped up with a brief pep talk, “The last few miles will be tough. Expect it and embrace it. Know that everyone out there will be experiencing the same discomfort as you, but the slower runners will experience it longer.”
Race morning, as planned, we started at the very front of the pack to bypass thousands of other runners and more easily navigate the course. For the majority of the race, we were connected via a 3-foot cloth tether we each held onto, which allowed for quick non-verbal communication. Depending on the demands of the course, I pulled up or down to indicate curbs and speed bumps and fundamentally controlled the pace.
Fellow runners cheered, “You guys are awesome!” and “You are an inspiration!” and “Aww! They’re connected” and “Keep him on a short leash!”
Corvin towers over me by a good six inches. As his guide, I had to be assertive and at times physically steer him in the right direction. During the race, I pushed, pulled, and elbowed him in order to keep us both clear of danger. He did not question my signals or pace, which made for exceptional teamwork and efficiency.
We had one near catastrophe due to a dip in the road around mile nine where Corvin nearly went down. As his body pitched forward and I drew back on the tether with all my might, we somehow managed to meet in the middle and find our stride again.
At mile 12, fatigue was catching up and I felt Corvin slowing, so I pulled forward on the tether, urging him to run faster. To my surprise, he simply let go[JB2] of the tether. He didn’t say anything, but I knew he was determined to not accept any assistance beyond what he absolutely needed. Steadfast, Corvin tapped into his reserves and conquered the last cruel hill. We reconnected at the top, but as we entered the finishing shoot he let go again, opened up his stride, and kicked into a full sprint. Sighting ground obstacles ahead, I sprinted as fast as I could to take the lead and warn him. We crossed the finish line hand in hand, nearly plowing over the runners in front of us who had slowed to a walk.
We shattered both our conservative and stretch goals, finishing in 1:42:47.
At the finish Corvin’s wife, daughter, father, and a running buddy welcomed us with warm congratulations and smiles. Impervious to the sweat, his teenage daughter embraced him in a big hug. As we recounted the last 13 miles of running, other racers continued coming up to us, sharing how much they were inspired. We both glowed with the fullest sense of the runner’s high.
- Julia Blanton is a nutrition, fitness and wellness coach. An avid runner, she keeps a health blog at www.juliablanton.com.