Visually impaired runners looking forward to CIM

By: Matt Long, Sports Editor
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In 2007 there were two visually impaired runners who participated in the California International Marathon. This year there will be 30 and no one is happier about that than Richard Hunter.

Hunter, a Folsom resident and visually impaired runner, wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon and approached the CIM directors about the possibility of adding a division for visually impaired runners early in the fall of 2007. The CIM approved Hunter’s request and he helped to get the ball rolling on the visually impaired division. Five years later, Hunter is still involved and is proud of what the CIM has done.

“I have a passion to serve as a resource for other visually impaired runners and to help them get involved in athletics,” Hunter said. “Since that time, I’ve networked and met a ton of people. I encourage them and plug them into guiding services. People have commented to me how the CIM provides VIP treatment.”

Last year 18 runners entered the visually impaired division and that number will increase by 12 this year.

“We’ve got 15 visually impaired athletes running the entire race and others competing in relays,” Hunter said. “We’ve got runners from New Zealand and Hong Kong, a relay team from Canada and runners from all across the U.S.”

Among the top athletes participating include Aaron Scheidies from Seattle, the top visually impaired runner from last year, who finished the 26.2-mile run in 2 hours, 48 minutes and 19 seconds.

Matthew Rodjom of Alexandria, Va., the top visually impaired finisher from the 2010 CIM, is back for another go, as is two-time Boston Marathon visually impaired winner Adrian Broca of Los Angeles, who Rodjom finished second to in the 2010 race. Rob Matthews of New Zealand, a holder of 22 world records, is also competing in this year’s race.

Rodjom is looking forward to the event.

“I thought the course was nice from what I could see,” Rodjom said. “It was a great weekend altogether just being able to meet other visually impaired athletes. It’s a small fraternity. The organizers made things special for us and put us in the VIP tent with the elite runners and that was nice.”

Rodjom would like to finish the race in less than three hours, which would be a personal-best time.

“There are faster runners in this year’s race so it will be fun to compete against them and see where I rank.”

The opportunity to bring visually impaired runners together to meet, run and compete against one another is what makes this event special to Hunter.

“I believe by bringing these runners together at one place at one time sends a strong message to inspire, educate and change the public perception of vision loss,” Hunter said. “It’s very unusual to meet someone with the same eye disease and it’s heartwarming for me to me to just sit and be quiet and listen to the athletes talk.”

Every year there is a dinner for the visually impaired runners and their guides, where they can meet one another, swap stories and enjoy each others company. It’s also an opportunity for the sponsors to meet the athletes.

“I wanted this event to become a community education event,” Hunter said. “My hope is that people in the community and the media get involved in this and that other adults with vision loss will get involved. People are inspired by these athletes. There’s been a long-standing disbelief that people with a disability can’t do things. People have lower expectations for those with disabilities. This event helps set the stage for people to change the way they think about people with disabilities.”

There will be a tent at the finish line of the marathon for visually impaired athletes. Hunter said other competitors and spectators are encouraged to come meet the athletes after the race.