"What’s my motto? 'I can do hard things.' I actually think that's one of the reasons I like running. Somebody told me once that running is hard and it teaches you that you can do hard things. And I've always liked the idea that running is like training for life because it teaches you to keep going when something's hard."
My father really liked sports. He ended up with a blind daughter and wasn't quite sure what to do with that. Soccer didn't go so well. I cried when they kicked balls near me because I couldn't see them. My mother told my father to accept the fact that his daughter was blind and find a sport that was not so dangerous. So he started taking me running and it turned out I was kind of good at it.
When I was five, he just signed me up for a 5K. I remember hearing some women on the sidelines saying, "Oh, look at that cute little girl running." That made me so mad because I was like, "I am not a cute little girl!" So I got very stubborn and very determined to win the race. And yeah, I've been running races ever since. I use a guide when I run, either a human one, or my dog. But I feel like it’s something that I can be accomplished at and it doesn't matter that I can't see.
My dog Toby is from Guiding Eyes For The Blind. He was trained to run and guide and he seems to really enjoy it. The only thing is, he will not accept that it's okay to run on the streets in a race. He keeps trying to guide me back to the sidewalk. Like, "Mom, you're in the street. You have to move." I was terrified of dogs as a kid. Back when I first started thinking of applying for a guide dog, I literally asked the guide dog school if there was any way that a large cat could be trained. But he has made a big difference in my life. I'm very attached.
Running is something I'm really comfortable with and I really trust my dog to make good decisions, and I trust my sighted guides if I'm running with a human, but I'm definitely not fearless. About three years ago, I started competing in triathlon. I did my first real triathlon last year. I won and qualified for Nationals. I finished second. That's something I'm really proud of. It's also something I did not see coming, especially because I was terrified of the biking. It took a whole lot for me to get on the back of a tandem bike. I was terrified of the speed that those can go and the trust you have to have in the pilot. It's taken me a long time to get comfortable with that. But now I am really excited to get to do more with triathlon.
What’s my motto? "I can do hard things." I actually think that's one of the reasons I like running. Somebody told me once that running is hard and it teaches you that you can do hard things. And I've always liked the idea that running is like training for life because it teaches you to keep going when something's hard.
The people who I tend to admire a lot are the people who aren't particularly accomplished or amazing, but stick with whatever it is they're doing anyway. There was a girl on my high school cross country team who came in dead last at every single race, and I just really admired her for getting up and running the next day and coming to practice. In every single race she came in dead last, but she still trained. And I really admired that. It takes a lot of strength and character and perseverance to just be that devoted to something, even if it's only for yourself.
For people who are new to a disability or new to doing sports with disability, I think my advice would be give it more than one try. It always seems impossible until you do it. The first time you run as a blind person or the first time you run as an amputee, or the first time you go fast in a wheelchair, if you're a wheelchair racer -- it's going to seem really, really, really hard and scary. And that's okay. But that doesn't mean you should stop doing it, or that you're not able to do it. Everything is new until you do it, and then it takes time to get used to it and to figure it out.
I really liked that there were so many adaptive athletes at the Bionic 5k. A lot of times, in Boston especially, people will kind of be in their class, so to speak. So you'll see a lot of blind runners hanging out together, and you'll see blade runners hanging out, and some wheelchair athletes. But we're all just kind of thrown in together at this 5k. I thought that was really cool. I would like to see more very inclusive events where anyone and everyone can participate. It is normalizing disability, which I think is really important, in that it gives people an entry point into sport if they haven't had that in the past.
At a more elite level, I would like to see more representation of athletes with disabilities and more recognition that elite athletes with disabilities are still elite athletes. When we see images of Olympians, there should be Paralympians next to them. Where there are stock images of runners there should be people with differences with them. It should me more representative of what the world really looks like so that people who are younger or new to disability know that there are so many options, and that life doesn't end when something happens.
Hannah, Bionic5k runner