There she is. Her name is Rhonda-Marie Avery. She’s got three kids, works as a RMT, and this summer she’s going to run the entire 885-kilometer Bruce Trail.
This winding footpath starts in a sleepy fishing village on the northeastern shore of Lake Huron, and follows the rugged Niagara Escarpment all the way south to Niagara Falls. Rhonda-Marie plans to cover that distance in 20 DAYS (!), which means she’ll have to run 45 kilometers each day. This would be a Herculean feat for the toughest of runners. But Rhonda-Marie has an extra challenge: she’s legally blind.
Rhonda-Marie was born with a rare genetic eye disorder called achromatopsia, which means she has no cones in her retina. She figures she has 8 per cent vision. But she hasn’t let this disability slow her down. Five years ago, when she was getting into running, she met with a group called Achilles Canada. Achilles paired her up with guide runners, and taught her how to run safely. Now Rhonda-Marie is returning the favour. This summer’s run is all about raising funds and awareness for Achilles.
It won’t be easy, of course.
The Bruce Trail features ankle-busting limestone outcrops, yawning crevasse caves and, uh, cliffs.
But the biggest danger RMA may face…is me. For two days in August, I’ll be her “guide.”
It’ll be my job to point out the rocks, roots, holes, streams and rivers along the trail. It’ll be Rhonda-Marie’s job (God help her) to trust my judgment.
I met Rhonda-Marie for the first time the other day. We got together with some friends at a remote section of trail near Ravenna, Ontario. It was below zero and the wind was howling. We ran for 4 1/2 hours through waist-high snow. I took a turn as Rhonda-Marie’s guide. I ran five feet ahead of her (about the length of a piano keyboard); close enough that she could make out the motion of my body. I pointed out the ice patches, and the tree branches at eye-level. At one point I ran down a little gulley.
“Whoa!” Rhonda-Marie cried out behind me. “You need to tell me when we’re going downhill!”
I asked Rhonda-Marie how she felt about this summer’s challenge; if she felt intimidated by the enormity of the distance. “Of course,” she said. “But I’ll be fine as long as my guides follow the rules.”
“What rules?” I asked.
“Rule number one,” Rhonda-Marie said, “is ALWAYS LIE!”
Of course, I thought. Ultra runners are in near-constant pain, and need a steady stream of inspiration in order to keep their legs moving. So when an ultra-runner asks: “How high is this hill?” the correct answer is always: “Not high at all!” And when they ask, “How much further until we eat?” the correct answer is always “We’re almost there!”
“Got it,” I said. “Anything else?”
“Rule number two…” Rhonda-Marie said, “is DON’T CODDLE! If I complain or slow down, kick my butt. Don’t ever feel sorry for me – unless I break my leg or something.”
And rule number three?
Rhonda-Marie smiled. “Rule number three is…there’s no such thing as snakes or bears.”
Rhonda-Marie’s epic adventure begins on August 4th. That means she’s got 3 1/2 months of training left. Every week she does two back-to-back long runs ranging from 20 to 50 km, two shorter runs (10 to 15 km), three swims (two to six km), and two bike rides (four hours or so).
You can follow her progress, and support the cause (and Achilles Canada), HERE.