Yesterday, I had the most awesome experience. I ran with a blind runner. I admit I was a tad bit nervous because I had no idea how it was all going to go. But, within a few seconds of meeting David Kuhn, all that nervousness flew right out the window. He. Is. Amazing! And, I had the best time ever.
First, let’s back up just a bit.
About a week ago, I, along with several other “runners” in the community, received an email from Sara Stadtherr, the executive director of Alexandria Hotel and Hospitality. Sara had been contacted by Renee Kopulos, David’s run coordinator. Renee sent out an email asking for help because David was going to be visiting Alexandria from August 10-17. Sara forwarded Renee’s email to several people in the community to help David with the things he needed.
So, who exactly is David and what did he need?
According to Renee’s email, along with David’s blog, “It’s All I Can Do,” and his Facebook page, I learned that David is a 62-year-old blind runner who has a 12-year-old granddaughter with cystic fibrosis. David is on a mission to not only raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, but to raise awareness for this disease. His goal is to run 11,000 miles traveling around the perimeter states of the U.S. In each state, he stops at various destination spots that are along major highways and interstates, such as Alexandria, which is located along Interstate 94. Previously, he had been in Fergus Falls, MN and before that, he was in Fargo, ND. Although he lives in DeKalb, IL, his running journey started in Seattle, WA.
Oh, by the way, his daily goal is to run/walk 20 miles each day. Yes, TWENTY MILES!
Through the email communications, I learned that when David visits a city, he likes to connect with runners or running groups who will go with him on his runs. While he prefers running on a track, he is open to running around the town and on trails for a little sightseeing. Yes, you read that right. Sightseeing. Just because he is blind doesn’t mean he’s “blind.” In talking with David, I learned that he has not always been blind. He lost most of his eyesight after he was involved in a car crash. He was hit by a drunk driver. I will save you from my ranting on drunk drivers. That’s a whole other story in itself.
Even though David is blind, he can see contrast or how he described it, “ghosts.” For instance, when we met up with Al for our run, David guessed, based on contrast, that Al was wearing an orange or yellow shirt. It was orange. So, he can see. Because of his ability to see contrast, running on a track is what David prefers. He can “see” the white lines on the black surface, so it makes it easier for him to stay “on track” and not veer off course. Although he prefers to run with sighted runners, David can run alone – if running on a track.
This was taken at the hotel after our visit with David. I love his shirt! And as you see, Al was indeed wearing orange.
So, after I received the email from Sara, I talked with with Al and asked if he wanted to sign up for a time to run with David. Of course, he said yes. Renee, David’s run coordinator, sets up a Google document that serves as a master schedule. People in the community can access it and sign up to run with David. Click here to see the one for Alexandria.
Al, along with the sports guys from the Echo Press, started the Echo Press Running Club. Anyone from the newspaper can join. Currently it is just Al, Eric (sports editor) and Blaze (sports reporter). They typically run on Thursdays around 4-ish. I thought it would be the perfect time for us to run with David so I signed us up. Blaze unfortunately had something going on, so he was unable to make it. Al, Eric and I would be running with David. Because I don’t work Thursday afternoons, I said I would go and pick David up from the Super 8, which is where he was staying during his visit to Alexandria. Obviously, David doesn’t drive, so when he visits the different cities along with journey, not only does he need people to run with, he also needs transportation to and from his hotel. I had no problems picking him up.
I arrived at the hotel shortly after 4 p.m. (anyone who knows me knows I sometimes tend to run late!). Before my arrival, I called David to let him know I was on my way and to ask where I should meet him. It was decided that he would be waiting in the lobby. Again, I will admit, I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t know what was going to be expected of me, as in exactly what type of assistance would David need.
Earlier, when I said that within seconds my nervousness flew out the window, I meant it. Upon meeting David, I found out he is just a regular guy who happens to need a little guidance. He’s funny. He’s down-to-earth. He’s genuine. He’s passionate – both about his running and his family. He’s real. He’s inspiring. He’s determined. He’s just flat out awesome.
Because I am somewhat of a slow runner, I was probably most nervous about our running together. I typically don’t run with anyone. I run alone. At my pace. So, one of my first questions to David was, “What’s your pace? How fast do you run?” His reply was awesome. “ABF, he said. “Anything but fast!” I knew right then and there that we were going to get along!
Here we are running the track at the old high school in Alexandria. You can’t really see it in this picture, but David is holding one end of a rope and I am holding the other end. We were sort of “tethered together” when we were running. Yes, even though he can “see” the lines of the track, it makes it easier to run tethered to someone so he stays on course.
After I picked David up at the hotel, we met up with Al and Eric at the newspaper office. We had decided to run from the newspaper office to the track at the old high school, which is about nine blocks away. Most of those nine blocks are on Jefferson Street, which is a pretty busy road in town. But, we managed with no problems whatsoever. The most difficult task was making sure I told David the right directions when we were turning. I am directionally challenged and I tend to say left when I really mean right. Luckily Al and Eric were with me, but I don’t think I messed up once. In addition to telling him which direction to turn, I had to let him know – in plenty of time – if there was any rough patches on the road, bumps, hills, etc. It seriously went so smoothly. Again, I was nervous about it, but didn’t need to be – at all.
It really was a pretty cool experience. David seems like a pretty laid-back kind of guy, so everything felt so effortless. It was almost as if we had known each other for years and were getting together to catch up on things. Seriously, it was that easy. AND……FUN!
The three of us running – David, myself and Eric, the sports editor.
Al and David running. You can somewhat see the rope a little bit better here.
All of David’s shirts clearly display that he is a blind runner – both on the front and on the back.
By the way, we got in a little more than five miles. And, David hit his goal of 20 for the day. After we made our way back to the newspaper office, I brought David to the hotel to freshen up. I was going to be going back to the hotel to pick him up again so Al and I could take him out to eat. After dropping him off, I drove home to meet up with Al so we could all ride together. Al and I returned to the hotel, picked up David and went to Traveler’s Inn. We had previously asked David what he was in the mood for and he said he was hungry for meatloaf and mashed potatoes. He wanted some down-home cooking! Of course, Al and I immediately thought of Traveler’s.
David, for the most part, is pretty self-sufficient. Like I said earlier, he just needs a little guidance. To help him make his way into the restaurant and to a table, all I had to do was let him grab ahold of my elbow and then I just guided him. Again, telling him what to look out for when walking – dips in the road, steps, curbs, etc. And again, everything went so smoothly. To be honest, it went a lot smoother than I thought. But then again, I really had no idea what to expect.
After we sat down and received our menus, I read the options to David. Unfortunately, meatloaf was not on the menu, but David settled for a roast pork sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy.
Before our food came, Al got out his notepad and pen to do a little interview with David. He will be writing a story for the newspaper. We learned lots of information about David, like the fact that he will be competing in the Ironman competition in Wisconsin in September. Seriously? Yes, not only is David a runner, he is a triathlete. Yes, he runs. But, he also swims. And, he bikes. All in tandem. Meaning, while he is running, he is with a sighted runner and they run together. When he is swimming, he is tethered by a rope tied around his waist to a sighted swimmer with a rope tied around his waist. And when he bicycles, he rides on a tandem bike with a sighted person in the front seat. Is that not the coolest thing ever?
Think about this. After his accident, David could have been the “whoa is me” type of guy. But instead, he said, screw that and kept plugging along. Doing the things he loves. People with disabilities who continue to push themselves to the next level like that simply amaze me. Why? Because I don’t know if I could. Nothing gets is his way. He goes after dreams. He pushes himself upward and onward. Of course he wouldn’t mind having his sight back, but he said he has been afforded so many opportunities without that he feels blessed. David has a lot of faith, which I admire. He believes that things happen for a reason. And I believe him.
Honestly, I could have sat and visited with David for several more hours, days, weeks. But, the restaurant was closing and we had to leave. We drove David back to the Super 8 and parted ways. It made me sad. But, I will be following David’s journey through his blog. And, I hope you do, too! I will never forget my time spent with David and I hope that someday, our paths will cross again.
Thanks, David, for our time spent together. I will cherish it always. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Thank you for what you are doing for your granddaughter and for cystic fibrosis. Enjoy the rest of your journey!
This the back of David’s business card!