Waterloo Marathon adds separate category for vision-impaired runners

The Waterloo Marathon and half-marathon now have a separate category for blind athletes to compete in.

St. John's Ambulance adds separate category for blind athletes to mark 20-year anniversary

Half-marathoners start their race at Bechtel Park. Proceeds from the Waterloo marathon and half-marathon go towards St. John's Ambulance. (Emily Fearon/CBC)
St. John's Ambulance added two new competitive categories at the 20th annual Waterloo Marathon and half-marathon this year — a high school team relay category and a separate category for runners who are visually impaired and blind. 
Volunteers handing a runner her medal. (Emily Fearon/CBC )

"Making sure that visually impaired runners can be a part of our race is one small step towards increasing awareness of our need as a society to include people of all abilities," said Tony Lee, the race director of the event. 

Rhonda-Marie Parke is an accessibility advocate and ultra-marathoner with 8 per cent vision. 
Tony Lea is the race director, at St. John's Ambulance. (Emily Fearon/CBC)

She said the new category will now allow visually impaired athletes to have more space to run and compete. 

"We need our space, but we're still included in the sport and the event itself, which is important for raising the inclusion and calibre in sport for people with disabilities," she said. 

The Waterloo Marathon is now the second race in Ontario with a category for runners with vision-loss, Parke said. The first was in Ottawa. 
A runner crosses the finish line at Bechtel Park. (Emily Fearon/CBC)

She said people with vision loss often lack the resources and knowledge to even begin participating in sport.

Achilles Canada, the organization Parke works with, tries to solve that problem by providing people with the right resources and a guide to encourage them to participate in sporting events. 

"It gets tricky with two people and coordinating schedules because you want to train with the person guiding you. Uou don't want to show up at the race and be guided by a random person," Parkes said. 
Rhonda-Marie Parke is a blind ultra-marathoner and massage therapist. Parke provides massages for runners, after their race. (Peggy Lam/CBC)

Jason Dunkerley is blind and a five-time Paralympian and medalist from Ottawa. At the Waterloo marathon, he said there is still a lack of awareness of how visually impaired athletes can participate in races. 

"Having a distinct category recognizes there's a place for blind and vision impaired runners at these types of races," he said. 

Approximately 500 runners participated in the Waterloo marathon and half-marathon this year. Among them, one runner, Pamela Haskell, competed in the visually impaired category. 

Jason Dunkerley is a blind Paralympian and five-time medallist from Ottawa. (Emily Fearon/CBC)

With files from Emily Fearon