IN THE EYES OF THE BEHOLDER
Certified volunteers assist visually impaired runners
At the Shanghai International Marathon held last month, a group of visually impaired runners appeared particularly notable among the tens of thousands of other runners. Although they were visually impaired or totally blind, they still had the
courage to break through their own limits. Running side by side with them were a group of unimpaired guides who acted as their “eyes.” Both visually impaired runners and their unimpaired guides call each other “lanjingling,” which is also the name of the activities organized by beYoureyeS, a local NGO dedicated to promoting sports accessibility to make it easier for the visually impaired to enjoy sports.
In Shanghai, one of the most modern and cosmopolitan cities in China, it is still not easy for visually impaired residents to go wherever they want or to participate in social events, let alone sports activities. However, since beYoureyeS first launched in January of 2015, there have been over 13,000 direct participants involved in the activities, with the NGO delivering over 55,000 service hours. They have also organized more than 250 different types of activities, including weekend runs, races and charitable education.
Yu Tao, a 44-year-old visually impaired resident of Shanghai, had very little opportunities to participate in any running activities prior to joining the organization. He happened to learn about beYoureyeS in 2015 while strolling through Century Park, where the organization regularly holds weekly exercises. In the beginning, he was merely curious about how unimpaired guides run with visually impaired runners. But soon he joined in the training.
“They have a very deep understanding about what visually impaired people need when they run, and their activity is very standard and totally charitable, which gave me a feeling of positive energy. So I joined in,” said Yu, who thinks that participating in such activities can add more color to his monotonous lifestyle and also improve his health.
According to Yu, the organizer utilized many international and domestic methods when they planned their own working standards. “So I felt that they are very professional and advanced when I took part in the activity for the first time. Before that, I had never enjoyed such professional guided running activities in China,” Yu said.
Founders of beYoureyeS, Lu Xiangdong and Li Jiyuan are a couple who met during their mutual love for marathons and triathlons. In 2012, Li saw a visually impaired runner and a hearing impaired runner running side-by-side holding a guiding rope during the Shanghai International Marathon. She had never thought that disabled people could enjoy this sport and was deeply touched.
During marathons held in overseas countries, the couple saw many blind and visually impaired participants finish the races with help and support. However, they were unaware of any similar organizations in China that organize volunteers to offer support to visually impaired runners. So they set up beYoureyeS, hoping to promote sports accessibility.
Thus far, Yu has participated in four half-marathons in Shanghai, Beijing and Suzhou of East China’s Jiangsu Province. He has also participated in more than 10 five- and 10-kilometer races. Apart from running, the organization also provides opportunities for the visually impaired to make friends and socially network about mutual hobbies and interests.
“I am interested in information about cutting-edge science and technologies and digital products. One of my running guides is a technical expert from Qualcomm, so I can consult him about questions in this field,” Yu told the Global Times, explaining that many of their volunteers are in fact elite professionals from a variety of top-tier domestic industries.
“I also traveled and went hiking with friends who I got to know through this organization. Being with people who have different hobbies will help me have new experiences, which makes me happy,” Yu added.
Yu was diagnosed with a very rare eye disease when he was only 10 years old. At the time, this disease could not be treated in China; his eyesight worsened until, at the age of 15, he became totally blind.
Since Yu cannot work, most of his time is spent at home; for most of his life he has basically been isolated from society. He had few opportunities to mingle with others until finally joining beYoureyeS, which he says has changed his life.
“I now have opportunities to get outside and communicate with different people. So my life has much more content than in the previous 20 years,” Yu said. “beYoureyeS not only provides me with new opportunities to do sports, but also gives me more chances to participate in regular life experiences.”
“You seldom see visually impaired people going outside, let alone see them running. It is not because there are fewer visually impaired people in China than in overseas countries, but because it is very inconvenient for them to walk on the sidewalks here,” Lu told the Global Times.
“My wife and family members also support me in joining
these activities, because they found that I have become less shy and more open and cheerful, and my health has also greatly improved,” Yu said.
According to Yu, some visually impaired participants must spend up to four to five hours getting to and from event venues even though the duration of their running time is less than two hours.
“You can imagine the loneliness and boredom they feel during these long trips, which can be relieved by the joy of participating in social and sports activities,” Yu added.
More charity in society
Chen Xiaobin had no interest in sports due to his blindness, which resulted from glaucoma when he was 14 years old. “The most direct change to my life after I joined beYoureyeS was that it forced me to get outside more often,” said Chen, who explained that he used to depend on his family members or unimpaired guides to pick him up and take him to and from such activities. Now he can make his own way.
As a trainer for unimpaired guides, Chen also thinks everyone in the organization can develop their own unique skills. “For example, my capacity is in teaching new participants,” Chen said, adding that volunteers gain more from helping others than what they sacrifice.
Forty-six-year-old Lu Xiaoyan used to have very little perseverance and often found excuses to be lazy. But since joining the organization, she has looked forward to going out running three times a week. She and Yu Tao both live near Century Park, so they meet every Tuesday and Thursday to jog together.
“I am touched by their spirit,” Lu told the Global Times. “For ordinary people, running is easy; you can go out whenever you want. But it is impossible for the blind to go out running on their own. So I appreciate their good attitude and positive energy. I like providing this support for them. The joy I get from this organization makes up for the time and effort I expend on organizing it all,” Lu said.
“I hope charitable organizations like beYoureyeS can become more widely known and recognized throughout Shanghai and China. If more Chinese people can regard such charitable organizations as essential to the advancement of our society, I believe that more in our society will eventually be promoted at all levels of life,” Yu said.
Yu Tao, a 44-year-old visually impaired runner (left) tests a guide. The guide will receive a “Dabai” (certified guide) rank if he passes the examination.
Unimpaired people receive training on how to assist visually impaired people through narrow passages.
Top: A visually impaired runner and a guide run together with a rope.Left: Chen Xiaobin trains new guides on how to use a rope to guide.