International Day of Disabled Persons 2022: what our disabled runners want you to know
Taking part in a running event can be a challenge for everyone. From finding the time to train, fending off injury and practising mental grit, crossing the finish line reflects the human desire to push further, faster and harder. But what about runners who must often overcome more than this – who must manage physical or even mental disability, and the stigma that often comes with it?
Saturday 3rd December is the International Day of Disabled Persons. This day celebrates disabled persons, but also exists to educate people on what it means to live with disability (and yes, to navigate what many non-disabled people consider to be awkward questions and conversations). In sporting events, this could involve knowing how a certain piece of equipment helps a person. Alternatively, it could be understanding what a disabled person is physically capable of (probably a lot more than you think!), or, to avoid giving misplaced training advice that isn’t suitable for the person in question.
So, whether you’re running, spectating or supporting at the Cancer Research London Winter Run, we’ve spoken to two of our runners about what they’d like non-disabled people to know about their disability. Take the time to learn more and promote inclusion and diversity in running by reading their stories below.
Rachel, 32, Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis
Hello, I’m Rachel, and I’m a runner with Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis. Something people don’t realise that MS is a spectrum, and there’s lots of us out there who have invisible symptoms; we’re not all in wheelchairs or have mobility issues. My symptoms are issues with my eyes and sometimes vision (I had a condition called Bilateral Optic Neuritis), and chronic fatigue. Fatigue makes my life difficult. I can be full of beans one moment, and 5 minutes later I need a nap!
I’ve been a runner since I was 16. I worked hard in the last part of 2020 to get back to running after my first relapse. My pace is much slower now, but that’s ok! I always run with sunglasses and a hat to protect my eyes now.
In 2022 I did 3 half marathons. The one I did in June I had to walk a lot of it, as it was so hot people around me (presumably with no health conditions) were passing out. The heat really affects people with MS, and the only thing I could do was keep it slow so I could get to the finish line in one piece. In October I ran the Royal Parks Half Marathon, raising money for MS UK, who gave me counselling when I first got diagnosed. I got my goal time of 2 hours 38 minutes, and it rounded off the year so nicely! I was exhausted, but so so happy. Yes it takes a lot of energy, but racing is worth that for me!
My next race is the Cancer Research London Winter Run 2023. Training for races can be hard, and it’s sometimes difficult trying to fit in around treatments and hospital appointments. But running gives me a sense of purpose; it gets me out of bed at 5am to get in a training run, and I love that feeling when I’ve worked hard whether I hit my goal that day or not. There are some days where the only thing I have done and can do is run, but I make that sacrifice because to me it’s worth it. There might be a time in the future where I can’t run, which is why I run now. I don’t like being called “brave”; I carry on with my life and do what I can, the same as anyone else!
Anthony, 39, Laurence Bardet-Biedel Syndrome (written by Ellie Mason)
Anthony couldn’t understand why he started experiencing migraines in 2000; he was a young, healthy man with no known health issues to speak of. However, when he began struggling to see his desktop, Anthony knew that something was wrong. After seeing a specialist at an eye hospital, it was confirmed that he had developed Laurence Bardet-Biedl syndrome, a rare condition that causes the retina in the eye to deteriorate, leading to increasing blind spots and tunnel vision. Eventually, the blind spots would expand and merge into one another. At the age of just 23 years old, Anthony was told that he would be legally blind before his 30th birthday.
Fast forward 20 years, and what many people might expect to be a time of limitation and distress for his diminishing eyesight is actually very different from reality. There is no doubt that Laurence Bardet-Biedl syndrome is difficult to come to terms with, however Anthony is an infectiously sunny person who is positive about his life. And why wouldn’t he be? Despite the challenges he has faced, Anthony is a keen and seasoned athlete, having run 3 half marathons and got his parkrun down to a speedy 20 minutes. And now, shortly before turning 40, Anthony will run his first marathon at the adidas Manchester Marathon 2023. First up though, is the Cancer Research London Winter Run, to welcome in a new year of running.
When asked to what extent lack of vision affects his enjoyment of running, Anthony is clear that for him, it doesn’t! Like many of us, Anthony thrives from the physical challenge of running and racing. “I want to prove people wrong” he says. “Anyone who suggests I shouldn’t run will receive a stern response!” He also describes the “sounds, smells and atmosphere” that bring the race to life for him. “I enjoy running as much as anyone else. All I ask is that people don’t judge people with visual impairments. The process may be a little different; it may take a little longer than other people, but we deserve the same respect as anyone else”.
That ‘process’ involves being fitted with specialist glasses or running ‘goggles’, as well as finding a guide runner from the British Athletics Association. Anthony spoke of the importance of a strong relationship and trust between visually disabled runners and their guides. “It’s like stencilling. You are stencilling your runner’s movements, to take you around corners or any obstacles on the course”.
When asked about the main challenges of his disability on his training, Anthony tells me that medical appointments and treatment can be frustrating. Recently, Anthony has completed a second cataract operation and must rest and recover before beginning exercise again. “Training can be stop and start because of this and there’s always the biting temptation to jump straight back into it”. Patience is therefore important for Anthony to train effectively.
We would like to wish Anthony the best of luck in his races next year, and thank him for sharing his story!