If you follow my blogs here, at the Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine or at Great Run you will know that I like to promote physical activity for all; that I like to run and that I love meeting amazing athletes and participating in exciting events. Every activity I try is fun and every person I meet is inspirational, in their own unique way.
None more so than Libby Clegg. I spent a day with her and Strathmore Water as part of the #DoMore campaign, for which Libby is an Ambassador. A day that has left a lasting impression on me and inspired me to literally do more.
I had returned, after 24 years, to my old school, Hutchesons’ Grammar, to learn this time from Libby Clegg and her team about guided running for the visually impaired. As a runner I appreciated and enjoyed the training session with Lincoln Asquith, Libby’s former guide and step-father to her current guide and fellow gold medalist Mikhail Huggins (watch out Mikail, I’m after your job).
As a former Team GB sprinter and coach, Lincoln’s advice to increase my cadence (speed of my steps) hasn’t been lost on me, although I am more likely to share with my running buddies how he informed the group that I was strong and fast (he didn’t add, for my size!). Maybe, I am a sprinter after all!? He put us through shuttle runs and speed drills, focusing on knee drives and using our forefoot to push and propel ourselves forward..
Wait, sorry, I am possibly losing you and confusing you for my Great Run audience. Simply put, Lincoln provided us with some simple tools that we can use to become faster runners. The same tools that have helped Libby Clegg win Silver at London 2012 , World Championships and Gold at Glasgow 2014 and which give her continued hope of realisng her dream of joining the able bodied sprinters at the next Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast and the Rio Olympics in 2018.
However, here with us, her goal was to share some insight on what it is like to run for those with limited or no sight and to give us an opportunity to experience what it means to be a guide. I’ve watched Libby and Mikail at both the Commonwealth Games and at a British Athletics meeting in Glasgow and marvelled at the synchronicity of both the runners. One of the reasons I run, is because it is simple (once you forget about biometrics). I find it hard to coordinate my own movements, without having to factor in someone else’s.
So I was both honoured and horrified when Libby split the nine attendees into pairs, with the odd man (both psychologically and numerically) me, partnered with Libby, herself!!
The first thing we had to master was walking as a pair. Libby had us use hair bands to tie our hands together and she explained that we would walk as if a mirror was placed between us. Despite my fears, matching stride and arm movements came naturally. After a few practice walks, Libby decided we were ready for blindfolds. Libby is registered blind with Stargardt Mascular Dystrophy leaving only peripheral vision in her left eye , but watching her move around her surrondings, it is easy to forget, so I thought nothing of it when my partner put the blindfold on me. Until, that is, Libby stated that it was the blind leading the blind. Even then I felt confident. We were on a running track with no obstacles and I had every faith in Libby.
Walking with a blindfold on was a strange experience. You lose track (no pun intended) of time, distance and speed. Despite being assured of the contary, by Libby, I didn’t feel like I was walking in a straight line or close to Libby, even though we were connected at the wrist. You don’t feel in control, but with Libby guiding me, I at least never felt in danger. After a few practice walks, we moved on to running. Slowly to start. And a strange thing happened. Running with a blindfold on felt easier and was more enjoyable than walking. I felt that I was more stable and more confident. Libby helped, by keeping me posted on distance and by telling me to stop.
And then we swapped roles and Libby dropped a bombshell.
Other than Mikail and Lincoln, before him, Libby doesn’t let others guide her……but she WOULD let me! I cannot fully convey how this made me feel. Honoured, trusted and just a little nervous. I shouldn’t have. We set off and as our arms pumped and legs strode in unison, running in tandem seemed the most natural thing in the world. I even felt that my form improved. Even as we increased our pace, our movements mirrored each other.
I have went from running solo to running with my friends at Glasgow Nike Run Club and now to running arm in arm with a Paralympian, Commonwealth Games Gold Medalist and World Champion. Of all the experiences I’ve had, this one has been the most special. Not just because Libby was a great host and sport and praised my efforts, but because it has given me a chance to DoMore. It also helped that she uttered the immortal words, that so many Team Scotland members have now proclaimed:
Again, if you’ve read my blog, you’ll know that I used to be morbidely obese and you might also know that I had mobility problems in my childhood, but aged 19, I also lost my eyesight, albeit only for just over one week, with Optic Neuritis .
Running with Libby has triggered a desire to learn more about guide running, in the hope that I can encourage and support blind runners. I’ve made contact with Visibility and Scottish Disability Sports and you can too.
Let’s Do More to enable more to Do More!