The third annual Visually Impaired (VI) Runners 10k Challenge takes place at this year’s AJ Bell Great Bristol Run on 14 May 2013.
Among those taking part is Teresa Cryer, aged 52, who lost her eyesight in her 30s after receiving a shock diagnosis.
Teresa, who lives in Ashton, had been suffering with headaches that she’d put down to the hours she’d spent looking at a screen for her job in administration. After being referred by an optician to the Bristol Eye Hospital, she was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) on her 36th birthday. A group of rare eye diseases that affect the retina (the light-sensitive layer of tissue in the back of the eye), RP makes cells in the retina break down slowly over time, causing vision loss.
“It was a real shock, as growing up I didn’t have a clue that I had any problems with my sight and, at the time I was diagnosed, I still had some useful vision,” explains Teresa. “RP is a low progression of sight loss, so even though they told me I had to stop driving immediately, nothing changed straight away and I think I was in denial for many years.
“For a while, I was still able to walk about without a cane, but things gradually became more difficult and, after a few close calls, I realised I couldn’t carry on the way I was.
“These days, I have some light perception, but I can’t see images. It’s only shadows.”
Becoming a runner
Teresa always enjoyed sport growing up but didn’t get into running until she lost her sight.
“I used to do gymnastics and then I continued going to the gym, but never got into running. I decided to give it a try when I heard about VI Runners Bristol through the RNIB.”
VI Runners Bristol is a group set up in 2017 by local guide runner, Colin Johnson, which allows runners to train as guides to take blind or partially sighted people running.
“I went along to the group in 2017 just to give it a go and I’ve been running ever since,” explains Teresa. “I started with the Couch-to-5k and from there I did my first Park Run. I’d never even heard of a Park Run before!”
Since then, Teresa’s running has gone from strength to strength and in 2019 she took part in the London Marathon. On 4 March this year, she completed The Green Boy, her first ultra-marathon, which is a local 30-mile route.
“Running gives me a great sense of freedom,” she says. “If you’re walking around you have to concentrate all the time. Even in a familiar area, there could be something new in the way, like scaffolding that wasn’t there the day before. But when you’re running with a guide, you’re tethered and you’re just running and chatting. They describe the terrain if they need to, but if it’s a more straightforward route you can just enjoy it and let go of any stresses.”
The new community of friends she’s met through VI Runners Bristol has built a new social life for Teresa and even led to her meeting her partner Jeff.
“We’ve all had lots of trips together as a group, including a weekend away in the Cotswolds where we did a 24-hour relay with our guides,” she explains. “We camped overnight and it was such an adventure. Getting up at 2am when it’s your turn to run seems mad, but we had so much fun!”
A special event
Normally, visually impaired runners are expected to compete in the same races as sighted runners, but the VI Runners 10k Challenge at the AJ Bell Great Bristol Run has been the first of its kind that allows them to compete for their own medals. There are prizes for first, second and third place males and females.
“We were all so excited the first year it happened,” she says. “And it’s brilliant there’s going to be a VI Runners Half-Marathon Challenge at the AJ Bell Great Manchester Run this year too.”
Teresa took third place among the females in both previous VI Runners 10k Challenges, finishing in under 60 minutes each time.
“I couldn’t believe it when I took third place both times. I got a trophy, which was so great!
“This year I’m going to try again for a sub-60, but we’ll see what happens. Mostly it’s great just to get out there and enjoy it. It’s nice to do this in my home town, with all the crowds cheering you on!”
The VI runners taking part will not have their sight disability categorised as they would do if it were a championship race, but they will be required to be tethered to a guide runner. Participants will set off ahead of the mass start for the AJ Bell Great Bristol Run 10k and Half Marathon races.
If you, or someone you know, wants to take part in the VI Runners 10k Challenge at the Great Bristol Run, visit here.
For more information on VI Runners Bristol, visit their Facebook group.