Toe, low ankle, high ankle, mid shin, knee high small, knee high wide, nub, 100 ft, 200 yards, 1/4 mile. Uphill, downhill… while these may seem like some weird code language to you it’s not all weird to me or to Blind Pete. Some four years later, and approaching 140 races guiding him, our “code language” is always a work in progress. Every time we step on a course we find some new challenges to navigation.
See my job is very simple in nature. Rule number one is to make sure he doesn’t get hurt. Number two is to make sure he finishes the race.
Simple I say, but let’s go a bit into one day in particular when “guiding wasn’t so “simple”. Horrifying is the word I would use to describe how I was feeling on May 7th 2016 – a day I’ll never forget. Why you ask? It was my very first time guiding Blind Pete at a Spartan Race. Not just any race mind you, it was a Beast. Go big or home I always say. Well, for him and for me it was truly a day of firsts.
It was 8:45am on a somewhat cool morning in Cumberland Ohio. “The Wiles” was the name of the venue. A wildlife park most say, but this particular day it was a Spartan Race venue. Our start time was 8:45 thanks to our good friend, and Spartan emcee, Robert Lyday who was able to move us to that time from our original start time of 9:30. Still to this day we are so thankful he was able to do that for us, for if he hadn’t we would have been out on that course after dark with no headlamp. How was I supposed to know it would take us nearly nine hours to finish?
It was my first time guiding Pete on a Beast course. I was used to it taking me only two and half to 3 hours tops. I’d run many races before and I just thought, oh heck maybe four and half hours with Pete and we’ll be home free. I in for an big surprise. As we were nearing mile eight, somewhere round hour five, conditions start making a turn for the worse. It starts to rain and temps start dropping. I found myself in a new and unfamiliar situation.
Here I am with this completely blind man attached to my right arm. He is tired, his legs shaking from fatigue, completely out of his element, and relying on me to keep him safe and unharmed. The rain worsens, and as more and more other participants pass us the terrain worsens as well. At one point I just tell Pete we have to slide down the slick muddy hills and crawl up the the other side. Because as we all know, what goes down must come up!
Moving forward to mile thirteen Pete is not doing well and he tells me in a shaky voice, “Joey I don’t think I can go any further.” OK, this is a first for me. A possible DNF! Never ever before has this happened to me even though I had done about 375 races at the time! What am I to do?
Flight or fight kicks in and I say to him, “Pete we have to finish this race no matter what it takes. I’ll carry you off this mountain if I have to but, you WILL cross that finish line. You will not quit on my watch.” Well, call it fate. Call it whatever you like, but it was like a switch flipped in him. He says to me, “NO, you will not carry me. No one has ever before and it’s not about to happen today.”
Needless to say that phrase has become a running joke as we near the end of any race we do now and we get a good laugh. Finish the race did he ever, and under his own power! As I mentioned earlier, some nine hours later, just before dark, we cross that finish line and Pete’s body language says it all. Arm up with a fist pump! That has been and will be forever my most favorite fire jump and finish line picture!
We will soon be going to the OCRWC which Blind Pete qualified for against able bodied people. He has/we have come a long way with our communication on the course, but that day in Ohio taught me a lot and I’ll never forget it! One such lesson which now and will forever be part of our name “NO EXCUSES!”
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