Blind Runners Pound The Pavement14 May 1997
They won't be able to enjoy the city sights, but the exhilaration and challenge will be no less for Nick Gleeson, Michael Bassil and Phillip Cook than for the 4,000 other runners in the Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon.
Gleeson being lead
|All three are legally blind. Gleeson is totally blind, Bassil has practically no sight and Cook has about a metre of vision. They will run with two "pilots" on either side to keep them on the course and prevent them from bumping other runners.|
Each is in heavy training for his first attempt at the 21.1km, which will take them from Lower Fort St, past Pier One and Circular Quay, along Macquarie St to Mrs Macquarie's Chair, behind St Mary's Cathedral and back down Hickson Roas. A second lap brings up the full distance.
The blind trio are members of the Achilles Running Club, which promotes and encourages disabled people to take up running with the general public. The club originated in New York, where it was formed in 1983. Since then, 40 branches have formed across the United States and there are another 110 worldwide, including the Sydney chapter which started in April 1996.
The Achilles Club here has 70 members, 18 of whom are disabled. The club meets every sunday at 8am at the steps of the NSW Art Gallery and trains around the Royal Botanic Gardens and Mrs Macquarie's Chair.
Gleeson, 36, lost his sight in an accident when he was seven. Yet he has completed his BA at Melbourne University and for the past five years has worked as a community relations officer for the royal Blind Society in Sydney. He has abseiled a city building and tried tandem skydiving, bungee-jumping and scuba-diving.
His sporting career has been no less-impressive, representing Australia in athletics, goalball and cricket in Hong Kong, England, Holland and most notably in the 100m and 400m at the 1984 Paralympics in New York. More recently he has moved into distance running and finished the City to Surf last year in what he describes as a "really slow" 2hrs 20min and 9secs. "Since then I've really worked hard at getting myself much fitter" said Gleeson, "It's a new ball game. I've gone from one extreme to the other, but am enjoying it. It's fabulous".
Gleeson and his wife Heather, who is also blind, have two children, Belinda and Peter. He trains six days a week, three of those sessions on a treadmill at home and the other three sessions on the road accompanied by a pilot. He averages about 10km each session and recently did a 16km run. As for his expected finishing time, Gleeson said "My aim is simply to complete it. I'm not too concerned about the time". Yet Achilles Club member co-ordinator Wendy Downes expects all three runners to complete the distance in under 110 minutes.
After that, the trio has an even tougher assignment. They are building towards the New York Marathon in November 1997 for which the club is busy fund-raising.
The Achilles Club can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org