Photographer Tackles NY Marathon to Acknowledge Blindness
Young Photographer Tackles New York Marathon to Acknowledge Blind Step-Dad
Auckland-based photographer Jessie Rolton is tackling her first ever marathon, despite a lifelong belief that she is not ‘a sporty person’. To add to the challenge, the one she’s taking on is the famed New York Marathon on November 5.
Jessie’s motivation? Her blind stepfather Mike, who met Jessie’s mum when Jessie was only five.
Mike suffers from a congenital condition that saw his eyesight deteriorate from early childhood. By the time he reached his 20s he could no longer run unassisted.
Since then, he has run numerous marathons, always tethered to a guide. This year will be his ninth New York Marathon – and, despite the fact that he’s targeting 10 before calling it quits, it may also be his last. That’s because five years ago, 47-year-old Mike was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
“That’s now spurred me into action,” says 26-year-old Jessie. “For years, I said I’ll be Mike’s guide one day, but I never did anything about it. I’ve always wanted to do it to thank him for being my dad, and I might not get another chance.”
Having Jessie as his support couldn’t be more exciting for Mike. But it wasn’t like that at the start. “After our first training run, it was like having a dead thing on the end of the tether,” he says. But Jessie stuck with it, and her training is now on track. She and Mike have also built up a strong rapport needed for success.
“A good guide will warn you well in advance of what’s coming up,” says Mike. “It takes practice, because a sighted person won’t necessarily see something as a hazard, and they can also forget that a simple turn – while obvious to them – isn’t obvious to me.
“Jessie’s job is to keep me safe and also make sure I don’t burn more energy than I have to.”
Although Mike and Jessie’s mother are now separated, the venture is still a family affair: Jessie’s partner Carlos will be guide to Mike’s partner, Laura, who is also blind. It will be Laura’s second New York Marathon.
Mike says there’s a special feeling about running as a team, distinct from the gruelling singlemindedness of the solo marathoner. “We’re happy at each other’s success and support each other. Whatever our place, first second or last, we’ll link arms and celebrate reaching the end.”
Getting so many people to New York for a marathon is expensive, and the four runners are now crowdfunding to soften the financial blow.