2018 was the ninth time that adidas China had held the ‘Run for Love’ charity event, but only the first time blind runners had been invited to join. I was eager to learn more and, after a bit more digging, I found out that the blind runners were from ‘Running in the Dark’, a not-for-profit organization based in China.
I was blown away to find out that one in 100 people across China is legally blind. For a lot of people suffering from severe visual impairments, their lives are very restricted and quite often they don’t have the support they need to get out and about. Running in the Dark’s aim is to get them out and moving. For the past two years, the team has been partnering blind runners with volunteer guides to assist them in races across the country, and overseas races such as the Boston Marathon.
Running is a passion of mine, so I decided to put my name forward to be one of 20 employee volunteers as a guide runner and to help one of the 10 blind runners complete the 6km race. I knew this was going to be a challenge, but it was one that I was really excited about.
On the day of the race, and after several months of preparation, I was partnered with Mr. Li. At 30 years old, Mr. Li has been visually impaired his whole life. I walked into the race thinking that he would need a lot of care and attention. But when I finally met him face-to-face, I was surprised. He was calm, he was composed, and he was confident. If anything, he was almost a little impatient – he was itching to run.
I knew that helping Mr. Li would be rewarding, but I wasn’t prepared for just how much I’d learn as a person. The experience has not only broadened my horizons, it has helped me become a better version of myself. Here’s how.
He helped me to become a better communicator
It should be no surprise that running with Mr. Li pushed me to communicate more efficiently than ever before. Right before the run got underway, Mr. Li’s advice was simple – just keep talking to me and never assume anything. During the run, I had to be really vocal and call things out as I saw them. Firstly, it builds trust. You do things right and everything will fall into place. Taking the lead was hard at first but, by the end of the day, I felt more comfortable than ever.
I now find myself communicating much more clearly; whether it’s with my friends, family, colleagues or even with my customers on the floor – I’m taking the time to clearly get my messages across.
He helped me to have more empathy
You know the saying “never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes”? Well, this really rings true for me. As part of the preparation leading up to the race, I’d had to run blindfolded. This alone gave me a much deeper insight into what it was like for Mr. Li.
It helped me to understand the challenges that he would face that I would normally take for granted – navigating crowds, knowing what pace to move at, and even little things like stopping to tie up a shoelace.
I find that I have more empathy in my day-to-day life. Vision impairment is a clear obstacle for a runner, but the experience made me more cognizant of less obvious difficulties that other people face in their daily life. In the past, I might have been quicker to judge a stranger on the street, but now I realize that I don’t always know what challenges they are dealing with.
He helped me to reframe my setbacks
After meeting Mr. Li, I was truly in awe of his attitude towards his impairment – and towards life in general. When I asked him about how he pushes through, he simply explained to me that we all have setbacks in life, but all that counts is how you handle them. “I never had my sight, but I still have my legs and my lungs – and that’s all that matters,” he said. “If I used my eyes as an excuse, I would never leave the house.”
Once we completed the race, I was filled with adrenalin that I’ve never felt before. Part of it was the runner’s high, but a big part of it was from spending time with Mr. Li. The experience really moved me and since running with Mr. Li I’ve seen some major changes to my life and my own daily habits.
In the end, the experience with Mr. Li was powerful and one that I will carry with me for a long time. I was proud to run alongside him and see firsthand that, through sport, we have the power to change lives.
Now that we’ve completed one run with the Running in the Dark team, we’re already looking for more opportunities to get out there and do it all over again.