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Guiding an Achilles athlete in Cigna Wellington Round the Bays

Keep a look out for “the yellow shirts” at Wellington’s Cigna Round the Bays on February 21. They’re Achilles athletes - an inspirational bunch of Kiwis. Achilles is a charity that helps Kiwis with any kind of disability to participate in mainstream running events nationally (and internationally).

Cigna supports this charity - and so do I. As an ambassador for Achilles, I sometimes guide Achilles members through fun-runs, half-marathons and marathons. At this year’s Cigna Round the Bays, I’ll be guiding blind Auckland runner Tamati Pearse, via a guide rope and voice commands, through the 21km course. So cheer loudly for Tamati if you see him. The 21-year-old Aucklander is 6ft tall and will be beaming that beautiful smile of his (unless we are near the end of the course and we might be a tad tired by then!)

Achilles athletes run Wellington Cigna Round the Bays

Tamati and I will be among a large group of Achilles NZ charity members (from throughout New Zealand) there on the day. Lots of Cigna staff will be participating and volunteering too. Achilles runners will be entered across all the event options including;

Achilles athletes run Wellington Cigna Round the Bays

Guiding an Achilles athlete – what it’s like

Some people ask what it’s like to guide an Achilles athlete. I tell them I love helping others to achieve their running goals. It feels great to give back.

Running is a shared passion and so there’s always lots to talk about. There are lots of laughs along the way. I love that Achilles athletes are inspiring and tend to have a “can do” attitude.

Take Tamati for example. It takes a lot of determination to run when you are able-bodied, never mind running without sight. Try putting a blind-fold on and running with a friend to experience what it’s like for Tamati to run. I’ve done this and it’s incredibly scary. You have to have a lot of trust in the person guiding! Tamati was born with glaucoma and has been blind since birth. He has some colour and light perception i.e. he can tell if lights are on or off and can see some bright colours up close.He started running just three years ago and has already conquered two half-marathons and the New York Marathon. He’s looking forward to Cigna Wellington Round the Bays because he loves the cheering at events. He also loves the “social element” of running.

I can’t wait to describe all the things I see out on the course during the day so Tamati can fully soak up as much of the experience as possible. You know, things like those runners dressed in superman costumes. It’s always good to know when superman is “flying” by...

There’s also a big responsibility too with guiding Tamati that I take seriously. I need to make sure I give him lots of warning about upcoming curbs to jump over or if there are tree branches to duck under. So I’ll be on alert to be mindful of his safety. If he trusts my guiding he will have more fun out

Advice for anyone considering becoming a running guide

I asked Tamati what advice he’d give to a new guide who wished to help an Achilles athletes (Achilles is in a lot of centres nationwide and new athletes and guides are always welcome). His advice is: “To take it nice and easy”. He generally likes about three seconds warning before having to step over a curb for example. So a fair bit of notice of what’s ahead is useful for him.

Running guide

I’ll add too that it’s good to be a confident guide. I’ve guided a few disabled athletes now and know that they are more at ease if I’m a confident guide. They understandably like to feel like they’re in good hands. But mostly the Achilles charity is about having fun. So cheer “Go Achilles!” if you see a runner wearing a “yellow shirt” at the event. Actually, cheer on anyone who participates in the event. It’s pretty inspiring for anyone to crush run goals.

Check out the Cigna Facebook page for more healthy tips, and visit the Cigna Wellbeing Ambassador page for videos and blogs from Rachel.

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