On Becoming a Guide Dog …

9 01 2008

The hardest part about racewalking is that people really don’t take it seriously.  “Oh you just walk…” bite me … or better yet … go for a walk with me!  The hardest thing about being blind is, from my understanding, being treated like a normal person. 

I love guide dogs.  I grew up in Marin County and was very used to ‘students’ from the Guide Dogs For The Blind in San Rafael being put through their paces throughout the county.  Although I’ve always wanted to be able to afford to adopt a “Guide Dog Reject”, I never thought I’d be a guide dog!

Kerry Kuck is a blind runner with the Rocky Mountain Road Runners.  I met him around this time last year – actually February.  He’s been blind for the last 25 years and completely OK with it.  He had sight for the first 25 years and a complication from the diabetes took the eyesight.  Kerry, from what I can gander, has always been active so it sounds strange, but if he had to have a complication eyesight is better than losing a foot.  It was Kerry who told me that my glasses fogged up at the Jingle Bell probably because I was wearing my plastic rims and not my metal ones … same thing happened to him when he was a hockey goalie!

So – he wrote me about a week ago and although he knew I had a bit of a problemmatic left knee and ankle due to a slip about a month ago now he wanted to know if I would be willing to be his guide.  WOW!  To me that’s the coolest …. and a MASSIVE responsibilty!  I let him know that I had to keep my times down to the 13:45 range for the Disney, but he was cool with that. 

Kerry’s been running with Sheila as his guide recently.  They’re doing the Oklahoma Marathon and are trying to get me ‘roped’ in too.  I think I can’t add that into my already pretty full schedule!  The biggest difference between Sheila and myself (other than the sport) are twofold:  I’m about 4 inches taller and 40 pounds heavier!  We’re completely different builds, but the guys I’ve seen Kerry running with are big, so that would be no concern.

I’ve never been easy on myself.  My neighbor says I jump in with both feet — and when you’re feet are between an 11.5 and 12 woman’s … there’s a big splash.  To kick off my training last year, I did the Boulder Backroads 1/2 Marathon (which most runners find rather difficult).  To set my handicap with the Rocky Mountain Road Runners, I do it the week before a major marathon with a blind guy in tow!  Only me!

On this chilly Sunday morning, I got slightly lost getting to the site.  I’ve been volunteering for the club for about a year and a half now, but this was my first race.  I asked the former president to make my tag for me because I didn’t know what to do.  “Lis – just grab your name off the printed stickers …” It took a little for her to realize that this was my first race and there wasn’t a sticker for me … and when I looked at my tag – she forgot to check “Walker”.  I put a big star next to that!

We didn’t get together for any ‘training sessions’.  Kerry figured we didn’t need them, and that was cool with me. I was a bit nervous, but he explained that the leash clipped around my waist at the middle of my back would be held in his left hand … just like Audi – his guide dog.  Before we took off, I bent down to Audi and asked for any Puppy Coaching Advice.  The yellow lab licked the entire right side of my face.  When Kerry asked the advice I said “Audi said I should lick the entire right side of your face, but I’m just going to have to hold off on that on and leave it up to the pro.”  First time I’ve ever been sent off to a race with either a kiss or a sloppy right side lick!

As we went over to the starting area, I reminded Kerry that I have a nasty tendancy to start off a little fast then slip into my ‘comfy groove’.  I don’t know why I do it – maybe to stretch my legs a little or just get some space around me.  According to my Garmin, we were all the way down to a 9 minute mile for at least a handful of steps!  I was starting with John and Ed right nearby.  I wasn’t sure why they were starting at 00:00:00, but it was nice to have the guy who suggested my new addiction to me (John) and a guy I got to know when we three were at the World Class Racewalking Clinc together (Ed) within holler distance.  As we took off, I heard a “Hey … Lizzy … are you sure we’re doing 13 minute miles?” 

Uh … oopse. 

At any rate -as we went along, I got to know Kerry.  We’d never really chatted but when you’re trotting along for a 10K separated by about 5 feet of dog leash at around 12 – 13 minute miles you’ve got time.  If it wasn’t for “Hey – this doesn’t feel like 13 minute miles” ‘reminders’ from my passanger, I would probably have blown a lot of my training! 

The Rocky Mountain Road Runner Trophy Series costs $5 for non members who want to do a race.  This time we had about 20 people that are the Denver Rescue Mission running team.  They’ve got to be clean and sober and get out and run.  Some started with us and some after … but I let Kerry know about who was passing and what I was seeing.

Essentially – it was a 10k running commentary on weather, the trail, racewalking, running, frustration about his being portrayed as some kind of an almost pathetic character and all he wants to do is be productive … oh yeah, and letting Kerry know about ice, when snow piles were encroaching on us and where the water stop was while Kerry kept questionning whether my ‘pacing’ was really in that 13 minute mile range. What was fun was telling him about the guys running past us.  There were these three young guys that came up behind us and said “Hey Dude – You’re a freaking Inspiration!”  They passed us and I started to laugh.

“Kerry – ok – the three guys that just passed us … you’re NOT going to believe this … one of them is running in jeans and better yet they’re starting to slide down his ass … showing his boxers that are red and black flames!”

We both got quite the giggle out of that.  Kerry’s got an amazing sense of humor.  He knows I’m going to be wearing my Stitch ears at Disney (put them in his hand to feel them because Stitch is a newer Disney character) and when I said I couldn’t find dog ears, he asked what kind of dog ears I’d wear … we both said “Floppy.”

There was one hill of sorts and my passanger said “I note that Racewalkers don’t slow down for hills.”  The reply “Racewalkers don’t stop for anything they don’t have to!”  Giggle!

The folks I knew from the club were really supportive.  They cheered us on while concentrating on their running.  One good pal of mine reached out and squeezed my arm as he flew by.  He knew it was my first race, I was nervous and he was letting me know I was doing just fine.  It’s friends like that who make things really worthwhile.  I’m sitting here stuffing myself on popcorn from his kid’s fundraiser. 

On the way back, Kerry’s watch started talking – literally.  He said it was his anticipated time – something like 51 minutes.  We were going to be in at around 1:24.  The weather had been really nice and we’d not slipped.  Kerry said he could hear runners behind us slipping in spots.  When we were on the last 1/2 mile, however, our chilly but wind-free time was over.  We were going around a lake and hit by wind.  Really no fun.  “Kerry – I am a cold wimp, I’m picking it up.”  I don’t think he minded – or maybe he didn’t hear me.  We got to the chutes and it was great.  He and I walked around a little, but the club only had sugary snacks – and being a diabetic, that’s not a good thing.

The photo is of Kerry and me at the water stop.  Lis Shepard and Kerry Kuck – January 2008It’ll be high resolution on the Road Runners’ site.  The thing that made me smile about all this is that I was able to help a friend who refuses to be considered handicapped.  Cool.  Kerry learned something too.  Racewalking, of course, is far different than running. We don’t bounce – we glide.  Proof of this was when Kerry said that one of the biggest differences running with a Racewalker is that there was no bouncing up and down … a glide!

Here’s to Racewalker/Runner Alliance! 

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