Running without sight, for a cause

What’s it like to run a race without vision? A Perkins employee shares her amazing Blindfold Challenge experience

Two people run side by side, with the woman blindfolded and the man guiding her with a short tether

Julie DeLillo has run the B.A.A. 5K three times as part of the Blindfold Challenge, both as the blindfolded runner and the sighted guide.

February 13, 2017

Want to make a difference? You can by participating in the 2017 Blindfold Challenge for Perkins School for the Blind. With a sighted guide, you’ll run the B.A.A. 5K race in downtown Boston, while raising much-needed funds for children and young adults who are blind. What’s it like? Julie DeLillo, director of Human Resources at Perkins, remembers the first time she ran blindfolded.

During my first practice for the Blindfold Challenge, I thought I’d encountered a herd of elephants thundering by. Turns out, when you’re blindfolded for the first time, that’s what a group of people sounds like when they’re running!

I didn’t really know what to expect that first year. I was nervous about how I would be able to safely run but it turned out to be not so bad – you have to trust in your guide. A co-worker and I decided to partner up. We had decided that I would be blindfolded and my co-worker would be the guide. You’re tied together with a tether, which is like a shoelace about two feet long. There is slack in the middle to allow space to run.

When race day came, we were running with about 5,000 other people. It was slow going because I was very cautious. I could hear feet pounding on the pavement all around me but I couldn’t tell how close someone was. My guide was good at telling me when to slow down or pulling on the tether to get me to go around other runners, around potholes and through all the twists and turns. Often people think that other senses are heightened but I really didn’t experience anything like that.

We only had one little mishap: At one point, we were taking a left turn and my co-worker was pulling on my tether to get me around the corner when I bumped the arm of another runner. She wasn’t very nice about it, even though I apologized. My guide was indignant: “What are you saying? She’s blindfolded!”

Despite that, we finished the race in pretty good time and we both had a great experience. We have since done the race two more times, alternating who was blindfolded and who was the guide.

It’s not easy to be a guide. I did fine steering my co-worker around runners streaming by us and through the different turns on the course. But at one point, we were coming under an overpass and there were runners coming in the opposite direction. I said, “Wow, look at all the people!” I didn’t even think that my partner couldn’t see.  We laughed about it. 

I would recommend the Blindfold Challenge to everyone. While it’s scary at first, it really is amazing and gives you an experience like no other. It heightens your awareness of how much you rely on your vision.

How to participate: To apply for a spot on our 2017 Blindfold Challenge Team, register online by Wednesday, March 1, and select “Perkins” as the organization you’ll raise funds for. For more information about the Blindfold Challenge (or to get an accessible application form), contact Mike Creedon, Events Specialist, at 617-972-7831. Or email Michael.Creedon@Perkins.org.

The Blindfold Challenge is a collaborative event held by Perkins School for the Blind in partnership with the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI) and National Braille Press.

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