Running to build community
by JAMES POYNER
9th March 2020
Photographs in gallary below courtesy of www.primaryfocus.net.au
©2020 Primary Focus
THE THEME of community was strong at this year’s Run Warrandyte as our community welcomed, encouraged and celebrated the blind and vision impaired community.
The event committee reports registrations were up by 100 participants this year, proving the event continues to showcase our stunning bush surrounds to more and more people, year on year.
Guide Dogs Victoria were the official fundraising partner for Run Warrandyte 2020 and the not-for-profit running group Achilles Australia — who team up sighted and vision impaired runners were also on course, guiding a contingent of runners up and down the hills and trails of The Pound, as they ran the picturesque course.
Leah McFadzean, General Manager of Guide Dog and Vision Services, spoke to the Diary about what Guide Dogs Victoria do and their reasons for partnering with Run Warrandyte.
“It seemed like a natural fit.
“We try to come out into the community because we like to ensure that our blind and vision impaired clients and families can be in the community.
“Because that’s what it is about — independence, inclusion and accessibility.”
Leah explained that it takes two years to raise a guide dog and the organisation is reliant on volunteers and donations to help prepare the caring canines, but she also explained that Guide Dogs Victoria is not just about dogs.
“I am big on allowing individuals and families to do what they want to do independently.
“There may be someone here who has a family member, or extended family member, who is just starting on the journey and doesn’t know where to go.
“So if I say out loud ‘Guide Dogs Victoria is more than just the dogs’, then maybe they will ring us and we can wrap our professional selves around them and guide them where they need to go,” she said.
While guide dogs drew the crowd in the event village, the group from Achilles Melbourne ran the course, guiding six runners around one, two or three laps of the course.
The Diary spoke with several blind and vision impaired runners, and their guides, after the run, to gauge their experience of our annual community event.
“What was really interesting was the support we got from the fellow runners, as well as the Marshalls and the organisers — it has been a really great, warm and welcoming run”, said Carl de Campos, a vision impaired runner from South Africa, who is in the middle of a five-week holiday in Australia.
Carl took on the 15km course, completing the distance in 1:34:53.
“We were told we were going to run along the river and there was going to be some off-road track and I ran with Rhi for the first time.
“Rhi” (Rhiannon Rowbotham) is a regular guide with Achilles Melbourne, as well as a passionate and experienced trail runner in her own right.
“She did extremely well guiding me, there were a few steep bits, a few steep hills.
“But I am fairly fit and I found it really, really, good,” he said.
Carl and Rhi were caught out by the rocky Tank Track when Carl tripped on a rock early on, but she said it did not put a dent in either of their enjoyment of the course.
“[Carl] is a really experienced trail runner and he was fine — I asked him if he was hurting and if he wanted to stop but he was fine, he kept going.
“He bombed the downhills, even though he said he was going to take it easy, and when we got down to the river he could hear the rapids and he loved the birds.
“It is stunning out there, even for someone with vision impairment he was able to enjoy the course as well,” she said.
Rhi had nothing but praise for the encouragement by volunteers and runners on course.
“It was incredible… we had so much encouragement out there.
“I think the message about us is spreading — we have a hashtag #goachilles and often when we run you hear quite a few people yell that.
“But today, on course, people were yelling whether they knew Achilles or not — it was great encouragement, you have a really good crew out here.”
Peggy Soo took on the 10km distance with her guide Lowell.
“I’ve always wanted to come to Warrandyte and experience coming through here.
“I didn’t know about Run Warrandyte until I saw it on the Guide Dogs page so thought this was the best time to get on board,” Peggy said.
Peggy and Lowell told us the course was quite challenging but Peggy is looking forward to coming back.
“I like these sorts of runs that are a little bit away from the city, less busy, you just enjoy the run itself instead of having to go around and through people.”
Achilles Melbourne is always looking for new runners, both vision impaired and sighted.
The clubs social structure is building a community, which means, regardless of your level of sight, anything can be achieved.
Achilles Melbourne helps the vision impaired continue to be physically and socially active and also gives their sighted guides life perspective.
“I think we all get dire thoughts like that sometimes, even as a sighted runner”, said Rhi.
“When I get injured I get into the doldrums straight away and I think ‘oh my god I can’t run all week, life is horrible’ — there is not much anyone can do to pull someone else out of a funk when they have stuff going on in their life.
“Whether I am guiding or not, running is a community event and guiding for Achilles has shown that to be the case.”
Carl adds “What I have noticed with my friends who have deteriorating sight, what I find is they don’t want to accept it straight away, so they don’t want to run with somebody and it becomes dangerous.
“It is not just a running club, it is also a support group, a social running club — because you go through depression when you start to lose your eyesight and a lot of us in South Africa we are looking for a social club, whether it be a church, or a coffee drinking club.
“And what is more healthy than getting out and doing a race, whether you walk or whether you run?
“What could be more of a confidence booster than to get out there in nature?”
From showcasing local clubs and businesses in the event village, to the contingent of local volunteers cheering everyone on course, and the charity partners who strive to develop independence and community for the blind and vision impaired, Run Warrandyte 2020 was a celebration that strong community values improve both physical and mental wellbeing.
Everybody who took part in the event reflected Guide Dogs Victoria’s values of independence, inclusion and accessibility.
As local initiatives like the Warrandyte Men’s Shed and Repair Café have also reflected — inclusion, independence, accessibility and socialisation are important in maintaining positive mental health — and Warrandyte, on March 1, demonstrated its cup was overflowing with this sentiment.
Photographs in gallary below courtesy of Sandi Miller
Guide Dogs Victoria www.guidedogsvictoria.com.au/
Official photographs from the event are available to purchase — participants will have received an email via Run Warrandyte about how to select and buy official photographs.