Kyle Robidoux has participated in several marathons and completed his first 100-mile run earlier this year. He’s also legally blind. Kyle was born with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that eventually results in total blindness. Per Kyle’s estimation, his field of vision is currently down to about 3%, affording him a sort extremely narrow tunnel vision. Yet, he continues to participate in the sports he loves. In his own words, he doesn’t allow his abilities to define his boundaries.
I recently got to hear Kyle speak at the Olmsted Center for Sight in Buffalo, where he shared his experiences dealing with his diagnosis and his struggles during its consequent progression. Diagnosed at the age of 11, Kyle was ill equipped to understand its significance. But as the disease advanced, it began to impact his ability to participate in many of the sports he loved. He struggled with bitterness, as it seemed to him that his passions were being taken away one by one, unfairly snatched away by his disease.
“[G]rowing up,” Kyle says, “if you’re a young person, you’re taught…that if you do things differently, that means you are different.” But part of what he’s learned over time - and one of the messages he believes he can share through his running - is that differently-abled people aren’t inherently “different.” Doing things differently, Kyle explains, by no means makes someone different.
As his disease progressed, Kyle realized his passions weren’t being “taken away.” Rather, he was giving up on them, allowing his disease to define the limits of what he could and couldn’t do. He resolved not to allow his abilities to define his boundaries. “Boundaries are really just things that we construct,” he explains, “or the things that others construct for us, but they’re not real.” With this new perspective, he sought and found ways to reclaim his passions.
Today, Kyle runs races – including marathons and ultra-marathons – with the help of sighted guides. Sighted guides are volunteers specially trained to help visually impaired runners navigate a racecourse. Guides run alongside their partner and verbally communicate the terrain. Needless to say, this requires a high degree of trust.
“I want to be comfortable being uncomfortable,” Kyle says, because it’s in those times that he believes we grow and learn the most. He challenges his audience to think about the things that make them uncomfortable, not just physically, but emotionally. Perhaps it’s having a conversation with someone who challenges their beliefs, or taking on a project beyond the scope of their experience. Kyle’s advice is to identify these situations and then dive in. When we stop letting our abilities define our boundaries, we’re often amazed at all the things we can accomplish.
Sighted guides are available for several sports, including running, canoeing, and skiing. If you’re interested in working with a sighted guide or becoming one, contact United in Stride for more information (www.unitedinstride.com).