Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Guided by IPhone, Blind Runner Carries Olympic Torch
Guided by iPhone, Blind Runner Carries Olympic Torch. By Simon Wheatcroft Email Author June 26, 2012 | 8:01 pm Editor’s note: Simon Wheatcroft trained for a 100-mile ultramarathon, despite being legally blind for 12 years. He chronicled that experience in a series of posts for Wired last year. For future updates, follow Simon on Twitter or check out Adapting to Going Blind and Blind100. Sitting on a bus packed with torch bearers today I began to think of the interwoven events that had resulted in me sitting on the bus. It had all started two years ago, bored and between starting a new career path, I had nothing to do. I needed something to fill my time. I was also feeling a little pudgy so thought some sort of fitness regimen might be appropriate. Running seemed like a good idea as it was cheap to do so I could just lace up some shoes and head outside. Now that perhaps sounds like quite an easy step, but being blind since the age of 17 meant it was a little tougher than just stepping outside of the door and running for it. I turned to technology to help me along the way, and armed with my trusty iPhone, I headed to some football fields and took my first steps into running. Using RunKeeper I ran up and down some football pitches and logged my runs. This quickly became boring so I wondered if I could pair RunKeeper with tactile feedback through my feet. I began these tentative steps by practicing on a closed road. This suited me well for a while until boredom again set in. With boredom as a driving force, one day I just decided to step out onto the road and run. Feeling the camber underfoot and pairing that with distance markers from my phone, I ran the roads for the first time. Proving the concept, I spent the next few months practicing this technique through running into posts and obstacles and remembering where they were so I didn’t do it again! After a few months I had it perfected, and I was running alone. How far could I take this, I wondered? I decided to aim to run at the ultra distance: It would be something that kept me occupied and kept that pesky boredom away. As I began to run farther and farther I decided to talk about my unique use of the iPhone and RunKeeper. This started a huge chain of events. Writing that article began to create interest around what I was doing. Before I knew it I was doing media pieces and even writing for Wired Playbook! Beginning to compete at the ultra distance I paired with guide runners and began to compete. This would give me the honor of a torch-bearer nomination. It also caught the attention of ASICS, which created a commercial about me! As time went on, media interest grew, and I continued to talk about my story. The chain of events continued with my successful nomination to be a torch bearer, which placed me on this bus. Rather oddly, I sat with an Apple employee who had come to support me after hearing about how I use the iPhone. Two years ago I would never of dreamed of being in this situation. With the bus driving through the streets passing the crowds of people, the excitement began to build. I would be getting off the bus soon into this mass of spectators! As the bus slowed and it was my turn to pick up my torch the bus came alive with applause and I entered the crowd. Immediately I was surrounded by people snapping pictures. Left and right, everyone wanted a photo. It was great to share my moment with the community and give people a chance to have a sneaky touch of the torch. I received a tap on my shoulder telling me it wouldn’t be long before it was time to run with the torch. The pictures continued and I received another tap, the torch that would light mine had arrived! We did a quick torch kiss and it was time for me to run my section of the relay. I decided to begin by walking so I didn’t rush my moment, however time seemed to slow down as I took a gentle run down the street. The crowds were huge and at one point had made it impossible to get through, so the police had to move the crowds back so I could continue my relay. The sheer amount of people that had come out to see me carry the torch was amazing. As I continued to carry the torch down the road, I was beginning to think I had been running a long time. It turned out I had! I had run past my finishing point. But seeing as I was the last person on the leg, the police seemed to let me carry on running. So finishing with a sneaky extra bit, it was time to pass my flame onto the lantern. In order to transport the flame to the next town they use a lantern instead of a torch so they can transport it quickly. As I boarded back on the bus I was met with another round of applause and again went back to thinking of the chain of events. Boredom had driven me to challenge what I was capable of and along the way had created a new direction in my life. Running became a new pathway to challenge myself and redefine my own limits. I am thankful to everyone along the way who played a part in my journey. In two years I seemed to have achieved things I would never of dreamed of, and carrying the torch is something I will remember forever, and more importantly, something I can talk to my son about and hand down the torch to him one day. I struggle now to describe what carrying the torch has meant for me. It has signified a difficult journey I have made and hopefully acts as motivation for me to continue that journey so in another two years, I will again be amazed at where I am.