Running Blind

We’ve been kind of wrapped up in High School Track lately. A couple of our grand boys are track stars and have just wrapped up a stellar year.

IMG_1595There is a young lady that they encounter at track meets that has caught my attention. I first heard about her when they were running cross country earlier in the year. And now she’s been competing at the regular track meets in running events and pole vault. The thing that is fascinating to me is the fact that this girl is legally blind. (Click this link for more info and a video of her.)

When she runs cross country her teammates wear bells on their shoes. When she’s on the track she runs on the inside lane so she can distinguish between the track and the infield grass. When she pole vaults, she counts steps. People are so incredibly adaptable! I have heard of cross country runners running with guide dogs. I have read about blind people climbing mountains and hiking the Appalachian Trail with a guide dog.  And I’ve read about and seen people with all kinds of obstacles thrown in their paths who manage to live full, inspiring lives.

I come from a heritage of working dogs who are bred to provide support and encouragement to people who are visually impaired. I’m proud of that. Because of that history, I am forever connected to the blind community. We sometimes raise guide dog pups, we have friends who raise guide dog pups, we have friends who use guide dogs. And all those dogs are MY friends! It’s an inspirational world.

At my house, we have quite a library of books about that world. Blind people vaulting over life’s hurdles and climbing life’s mountains. Guide dogs doing what they were bred to do. Guide dog pups learning the ropes. I’ve picked one to share with you that is pretty special. Partly because it’s a good story. And partly because it has Braille overlays!

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The View From Under the Pew was written by Diane Winters Johnson and illustrated by Margaret Freed. It was published by Abingdon Press in 2008. This is the true story of Ms Johnson, an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church, and her guide dog Walter. Walter is a golden retriever whose job is “to guide Pastor Diane through her day so she can do her work of caring for the church.”

The book is a look into a typical week of Pastor Diane’s busy life. As a pastor, Ms Johnson spends time in her office visiting with various people about life issues and church issues and other office things. Walter sleeps under her desk. Pastor Diane also goes to hospitals to visit with sick people. Walter goes with her and helps her navigate the busy streets and hospital halls. They go to church meetings and bible classes. Potluck dinners and quilting bees and choir practice. Walter waits patiently under desks and tables. When Sunday comes, Pastor Diane and Walter go to the front of the church where Pastor Diane stands on the pulpit and Walter stays under the pew. Walter has a view of the whole congregation. All the people that he has seen all through the week. It’s a special view of a special place.

This is a very good book that gives a view of what life is like for a working team of dog and human. And as I said, it is also in Braille. Each page has a plastic overlay with Braille print. Braille is a special way of writing text so that blind people can read with their fingers. I can’t read Braille myself, but it’s pretty cool to look at. Some blind people don’t use Braille and some do.

You can find out more about Braille from the National Braille Press here,

You can find out more about guide dogs from the National Association of Guide Dog Users or Guide Dog Users, Inc.

Here are a couple of videos of interest —

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12 thoughts on “Running Blind

  1. wow – you opened my eyes to a completely different world… one that relies on sound and touch. thanks! The books sound wonderful; I’ll put them on my ever-growing list.

  2. What an inspiring story about the young blind girl running track. Great videos. Reminds me of Genevieve Petrillo’s book, “Keep Your Ear on the Ball.” Kids are fearless. And, congratulations to your grandsons! Nessa at Opening a Can of Bookworms, would be interested in this. She works with the visually imapired and has written books.

    • That girl is amazing! and there are more like her out there doing the same kinds of amazing things day after day. Like its normal! Yes, I thought about Ms Petrillo’s book while i was finding out about this girl. And i didn’t know that about Nessa! Interesting.

  3. A blind athlete, wow. I used to think it was tough enough just doing cross country.
    Thanks for sharing the dog videos. I wonder if the dog misses his trainer when he moves to where he’s needed.

    • One of the hardest things about being a working dog is having to let go of attachments and build new ones. A guide dog puppy grows up with a family that we become VERY attached to. Then we have to say good-bye and live in a kennel for awhile with other dogs. But we discover our loving, enthusiastic trainer and life is pretty good again. Then a blind person comes along to take over and we fall in love with them. It’s kind of a roller coaster. But Labs are pretty good at adapting to new situations. As long as we’ve got some love and a full bowl and a job to do, we’re happy!

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