Local runner pulls out all the stops to help visually impaired access his sport

Blind runner Chris Blackabee competing in the 2016 Budapest Marathon with his guide Colin Johnson.

Blind and partially-sighted people across Bristol are being offered help in taking up the sport of running, thanks to the efforts of a Bradley Stoke resident.

Colin Johnson, a member of Westbury Harriers and a keen runner for over ten years, has organised a ‘Couch to 5k’ training course aimed specifically at blind and visually impaired people.

The course, which started on Wednesday 1st March, is supported by a team of 24 volunteers who Colin arranged to be trained as UK Athletics accredited ‘running guides for the blind’, through a course held recently at the SGS College WISE campus in Stoke Gifford.

Adults with a visual impairment wishing to take their first steps in running are invited to attend the weekly ‘Couch to 5k’ sessions, for which the meeting point is Action for Blind People (RNIB), 10 Stillhouse Lane, Bedminster, Bristol BS3 4EB. Under-16s are also welcome, providing a parent/guardian is present and able to participate.

Colin explained that he became involved in ‘guiding’ last year when a running friend of his was looking for someone to help guide a runner in a marathon. “I love running myself, and how it helps me not only in a physical sense but also mentally, and I thought it would be great to help others also gain similar benefits and joys from the sport.”

The runner Colin has been guiding is Chris Blackabee, who has been blind since birth. Together, they successfully completed the Budapest Marathon, and Colin says it was a “fantastic feeling” helping Chris achieve his marathon goal.

Chris is no stranger to challenges. Having been totally blind for most of his life hasn’t stopped him from becoming a triathlete, a skier (both downhill and cross-country) and a rock climber. “He is an inspiration to me with his can-do attitude to life, “ adds Colin.

Explaining what it means to be able to compete as a runner despite his disability, Chris said: “Running has completely changed my whole attitude to taking part in mainstream sporting activities, thanks to sighted athletes who have helped me every step of the way. Not only has it helped with my physical health but it has also assisted with my mental wellbeing. I now feel a part of an inclusive mainstream sport.”

“When I started running a few years ago, I struggled to run a mile without having to make stops to gather my breath, but in a relatively short time I have progressed to being a marathon distance runner alongside a certificated UK Athletics sighted guide. In addition to the health and wellbeing benefits, I have made amazing lifelong friends on my journey to fitness. I am now achieving goals that I could have only ever dreamed of before. This is a target anyone with a visual impairment can hit; you just need determination, drive, a can-do attitude and the support of a willing guide runner.”

Asked about his motivation for starting the ‘Couch to 5k’ course, Colin said: “After spending time with Chris, I realised that running provided a lot more than just improved fitness, but was also able to widen a person’s social group by meeting new friends as well as the obvious physical (but also the mental) benefits that exercise brings.”

“Chris explained that many visually impaired (VI) people can become isolated from society and develop a low self-belief in their own abilities, and having seen the positives that running has provided Chris, I had the idea to try and set up this running group in Bristol in the hope that we could achieve the same for other VI people in the area.”

To find out more about the ‘Couch to 5k’ course, please contact Colin at colinjohnson452@btinternet.com or call him on 07949 696751.

This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of the Bradley Stoke Journal magazine (on page 18 ). The magazine is delivered FREE, EVERY MONTH, to 9,500 homes in Bradley Stoke, Little Stoke and Stoke Lodge. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.

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