Disabled athletes to compete

Getting involved . . . Dunedin’s Achilles International athletes will compete in the 10km and...
Getting involved . . . Dunedin’s Achilles International athletes will compete in the 10km and half marathon events in the Dunedin Marathon. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

A new running group is helping people with disabilities take part in ‘‘mainstream’’ events.     

Formed in 1983, Achilles International is a worldwide organisation which aims to empower people with all types of disabilities to participate in running events.     

Between 25 and 30 athletes from the Dunedin and Christchurch chapters will take part in the Dunedin Marathon 10km and half marathon events.     

The Dunedin chapter started in March and is coordinated by Stacey Pearson.     

Pearson, who has been a runner for about 40 years, had heard about the organisation and at last year’s Dunedin Marathon asked the general manager why there was not a group in Dunedin.     

If there was one, she would like to be involved, she said.     

A few weeks later, he got in touch and asked her to be the group’s leader.     

‘‘It’s been fantastic.     

‘‘For me, it’s a way to put back to the sport I love.     

‘‘I just want to see everybody out there achieving what they can and being the best versions of themselves.’’     

So far, the group has nine athletes and 11 able-bodied volunteer guides.     

There are a range of disabilities, including people who are blind, have had a stroke or head injury, or have an auto-immune disease.     

The guide’s support varied, depending on what each athlete needed.     

Blind walkers usually hold on to a guide’s arm, or are tethered, whereas some runners need support from more than one guide.     

There could be one guide leading them (tethered or holding a cord), one in front, one at their other side, and sometimes one behind.     

Pearson said that was important to make sure the athlete had ‘‘plenty of room’’ and other athletes could clearly see them.     

‘‘Because somebody is running at pace they have to have clear space because it can get a little bit jam-packed.     

‘‘The athletes are very appreciative of having the guides, but what the guides get back in return is tenfold.     

‘‘It’s a pretty special group of people.’’     

The group meets every second Sunday and runs or walks for about an hour, before meeting at a cafe.     

When they line up at the start on September 1, for many, it will be their first event.     

‘‘Some would have never stood on a start line with 1000 people before.     

‘‘It’s very humbling and motivating to see what people can achieve and how they go about their day-to-day movements when they have continual obstacles they’re up against.’’

For more Dunedin Marathon Stories see below:
Dunedin Marathon: Welcome Messages
Dunedin Marathon: The Star Race Guide
Brother and Sister Will Run for Dad
Night Shelter Incentive 
'New Runner' Ready to Tackle 10km
Knox Residents Planning to Motor