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National Blind Running Unity Day Connects Runners Across Nation

December 18, 2020

(COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.) — In late September, runners across the nation received the dreaded news that the 2020 California International Marathon was canceled due to health and safety guidelines associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. For United States Association of Blind Athletes’ runners and guides, it also meant the cancellation of the 2020 USABA Marathon National Championships which are run in conjunction with the California International Marathon.

However, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we must adapt and persevere, and that’s just what USABA Staff and volunteer marathon director Richard Hunter did.

To fill the void left by the cancellation, USABA and Hunter organized the first-ever USABA National Blind Running Unity Day presented by Allworth Financial, which took place on Sunday, December 6 – the scheduled date of the California International Marathon and USABA Marathon National Championships.

“One of the greatest things about the USABA Marathon National Championships is the community of runners who come together to encourage and motivate one another,” said Hunter. “Since the championships were canceled, it allowed us to pivot and be inclusive of more blind and visually impaired runners who would benefit from being part of this ever-growing community, but may not have any interest in running a marathon or are just beginning their jogging journey.”

With no registration fee, the premise of USABA’s National Blind Running Unity Day was to encourage visually impaired joggers and runners of all ability levels to lace up their shoes and go for a run, whether it was indoors on a treadmill or outside with a sighted guide.

“I love running and I used to do it a lot,” said Paralympic goalball silver medalist John Kusku of Michigan., who posted a photo of himself running on a treadmill in his home. “I completed four marathons and I do not need much of an excuse to run.”

The response to National Blind Running Unity Day was overwhelming. A total of 174 registrants from 30 states signed up to participate, and over 60 of those runners joined in two community Zoom sessions on Dec. 6, to share their experiences, encourage each other, and form a sense of community around the event.

“National Blind Running Day helped to fill a void left in many from the pandemic by creating a sense of community for endurance athletes who are blind and visually impaired,” said USABA Membership and SafeSport Coordinator Cat Bouwkamp. “Having everyone come together on the video calls brought a camaraderie that has been missing this year that we all desperately needed.”

There were so many great insights, suggestions, tips and tricks talked about on the Zoom calls that a USABA Running Club was created on Strava to offer another connection point for blind and visually impaired runners and guides.

“The zoom call was great,” added Kusku. “There were runners from so many different ability and experience levels. There was a lot of advice and encouragement as well as people making connections. I heard some advice about tying bands to the arms of a treadmill to be used as a guide to keep a runner centered on the machine which would allow for arm swinging instead of just holding on.”

Driving the great turnout for the first National Blind Running Unity Day were leads coordinated by Hunter in nine cities across the nation. Those hub cities included Boston (Mass.), Chicago (Ill.), Louisville (Ky.), Nashville (Tenn.), Philadelphia (Pa.), Phoenix (Ariz.), Sacramento (Calif.), Seattle/Tacoma (Wash.) and Washington, D.C.

National Blind Running Unity Day by the numbers:

Total Registrants: 174
Blind Runners: 91
Guide Runners:62
Volunteers: 21
States Represented: 30
Zoom Attendees: 60+

About USABA

Since its founding in 1976, USABA, a community-based organization of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee, has reached more than 100,000 blind individuals. The organization has emerged as more than just a world-class trainer of blind athletes, it has become a champion of the abilities of Americans who are legally blind. The mission of USABA is to empower Americans who are blind or visually impaired to experience life-changing opportunities in sports, recreation, and physical activities, thereby educating and inspiring the nation. www.usaba.org/

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CONTACT: Bill Kellick (719-866-3222 or bkellick@usaba.org)