May is national Physical Fitness and Sports Month and what better way to stay in shape and be active, than to create a profile on the newly launched United In Stride website. This site, which was created by the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, is an international database where blind and visually impaired walkers, joggers and runners can find sighted guides. If you have wanted to get off your treadmill and get outside and walk this website is for you. If you are traveling and want to maintain your fitness or running goals while out of town this website is for you. If you are in need of a sighted guide to participate in a marathon this website is for you. Whatever your fitness goals are this website is for you.
Richard Hunter, Volunteer Program Coordinator for the USABA National Marathon Championships, is the creator of United In Stride. He says he came up with the concept after years of networking and trying to connect visually impaired runners with guides. “As a visually impaired athlete I would come across a lot of people who wanted to be guides but there was no real way to plug them into their local community,” he said. “I also saw the same for the visually impaired community too. If you didn’t know key people it was a real struggle to connect.” He teamed up with MABVI after an impressive experience working with their guides for the 2008 Boston Marathon. For several years MABVI has participated in the Boston Marathon and has formed a “team with a Vision” to help bring awareness and raise donations for their vision rehabilitation program. “I was blown away with their support and help to blind runners and it inspired me to replicate their model back home in California,” said Hunter, who lives near Sacramento. “My wife and I donated the seed money to get the website started.” The website was launched a few days after the Boston Marathon this year and as of today has over 400 people registered.
The registration process is very straightforward. It resembles setting up a profile on Match.com or Facebook. Just create your profile with your name, sports or activities, pace levels and zip code. There are privacy controls for safety and security. Additionally when interacting with a potential match there is internal messaging so no personal e-mail address or phone numbers are given out until you specifically do so. The website allows for people to independently connect with others on their terms. Also on the site is a tutorial for guides to know how to properly guide a blind or visually impaired person. But Hunter notes that, “we have individual needs and will let the guides know what they are. The most important thing is to have good communication skills and be assertive.”
So, now there are no more excuses to get outside and walk or jog. The challenges in finding a guide to run with have decreased. If you are blind or visually impaired and need a sighted guide plug into United in Stride.