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Summer 2002 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Blind, Sighted Bun Runners Share a Vision of Success

By Jonathon Osborn, American-Statesman Staff
Reprinted with permission from the Austin American Statesman 4/22/02

Sometimes, people take choices for granted.  For Alan Mackey, that choice was to run, which was really less a decision and more a way of life.  He reveled in his outdoor runs.

But about a year and a half ago, Mackey a 39-year-old former American Airlines pilot and Dallas resident, lost his eyesight to bacterial meningitis.

And with his vision gone, he thought he had lost one of his favorite pastimes.

Then he met a rehabilitation therapist, Kathryn Randall, at the Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center in Austin.

And on Sunday morning, Mackey, along with 17 other blind athletes, each tethered to a sighted guide, completed the 20th annual Schlotsky’s Bun Run and Family Fun Run.

This is the first year the Bun Run has included blind runners, but it won’t be the last, said Schlotsky’s Chief Executive Officer John Wooley.  Schlotsky’s paid the entry fees for the blind runners and their guides, gave them all red T-shirts and shuttled them from the rehabilitation center to the race.

“I’d really given up on running,” Mackey said.  Now he’s planning to take the idea of Running Eyes for the Blind, a new organization that pairs runners who see with those who can’t, back to North Texas.  “I’m going to see if there’s something - or get something going,” he said.

More than 5,000 runners from across the state were in Sunday’s Bun Run, the oldest 5-kilometer race in Austin.  Proceeds go to the Austin Sunshine Camps, a summer program for at-risk children sponsored by the Young Men’s Business League.

Randall said the idea of having blind runners in the race came out of therapy sessions with Mackey.  In February, she asked him what he enjoyed doing before he lost his sight.  He told her that he liked to run.  Randall connected with Running Eyes for the Blind’s founder, Austin lawyer Margo Ahern.

Ahern, an avid competitive runner, had been looking for a community service project that involved running.  She talked with a church friend who is blind, and out of that discussion, her organization was born.

“I just started asking around in the community and found out there wasn’t anything specific to Austin” for blind runners, Ahern said.  Now the group has become almost like a second career to her.

Seventy runners have offered to be guides in future races, and Ahern wants the group to go national. 

Randall said after Mackey signed up, 17 others raced into line behind him.

“It was like this thing exploded,” Randall said.  “It’s just taken on a life of its own.”

Running Eyes for the Blind was founded in January in Austin.  The Bun Run was the first of what it hopes will be many competitions for blind runners.

On Sunday, some runners were joined to their guides with shoestrings, while other pairs simply held onto shirt sleeves or tied themselves together with t-shirts.

Martin Kareithi, a 19-year-old competitor from The Woodlands who lost his eyesight in a car wreck almost a year ago, said he used to run a six-minute mile - sometimes even faster.

For the past six weeks, he and the other blind runners have been training for the Bun Run, and it has paid off, he said.

“My body is stronger but not quite as strong as it used to be,” he said.  “It’s important to get back out there.”

And that’s what Running Eyes for the Blind is all about, Randall said.

“It’s the best thing that could happen,” she said.  “These people have a choice, and now the opportunity is there”.

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