What Stephen finds most moving about running blind is quite moving.
It’s before 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning, and I’m walking through the Queen Elizabeth (Olympic) Park in east London and I can’t see where I am going. I mean I really can’t see where I’m going. My eyes are completely covered by a blindfold so that I can see nothing of what is a beautiful sunny morning. How did I get here?
Before I answer that, imagine what it would be like if this was your everyday reality. We take our sight for granted to such an extent that visual analogies are all around us. They’re everywhere we look. See?
Without the use of our eyes everyday tasks become complicated: getting dressed in the morning, using a computer to check your email, or walking through a park on a warm autumnal morning. Which brings me back to that Sunday morning. I was there, with my friend and temporary guide Jo, to take part in a 10km run (Jo had damaged her back, so we walked) organised by the Royal London Society for Blind People.
We were one of 125 pairs of people who had willingly volunteered to see if they could navigate around the park. We’d had a bit of a practice, and worked out how best to hold the elastic tether that enabled Jo to lead me (hint: hold on tightly). But we still started off gingerly, as surrounded by so many other people the chance of collisions was high.
We slowly developed a system, working out how much notice I needed before we turned (about five metres was fine), and what kind of obstacles merited special attention (I was fine with changes in pavement surface, but did get hit by low hanging branches more than once but then I am 6ft 1ins!).
After a while the actual moving around the park became fine. We weren’t fast, but we were making steady progress. But what I found most difficult was a complete surprise.
As we went around the course people would cheer us on – and I had no idea who they were. Several times it wasn’t until we were already past a friend that I realised who it was. Without my eyes to see, picking out voices in a crowd became difficult, and before I knew it we had whizzed (okay, crawled) past and the moment was gone.
More than the physical, it was the social which I felt I lost when I put on the blindfold
Removing my sight took me into my own universe, cut off and isolated. No longer was it easy to spot a friend on the a few metres away and to wander over to say hello.
I feel slightly ashamed that I hadn’t truly considered this before. It was easy for me to imagine bumping into things, and getting dressed in mis-matching clothes, but the difficulty of meeting friends, of making friends, was something that was beyond my imagination.
What began as a simple fundraising run, combined with a bit of a fun challenge, ended with me learning something more profound about how I take my sight for granted. Not bad for a Sunday morning walk in the park.
By Stephen Nash
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If you’d like to take part in next year’s run, please visit www.blindfoldrun.org