“The most pathetic person in the world is some one who has sight but no vision.” Helen Keller
In preparation for guiding my friend Francois in the 2010 Comrades, I joined the Achilles Running Club Sydney where I had the opportunity to train with visually impaired runners. There I met Ben who helped me to learn how to be a successful guide.
Ben and I are running without a tether, a technique rarely practiced, as it requires a lot of trust from the visually impaired person.
Since 2010, Ben and I regularly participated in the Sydney Half-marathons, and in 2011 we finished the Sydney Marathon in 4:56 with only 10 weeks preparation (see Ben’s report below). Listen to our interview with Adam Spencer on ABC Radio.
After this milestone Ben was looking for bigger challenges. So in 2012 he organised an Achilles team of four visually impaired walkers, and together with a team of four guides, they finished the 50-km Sydney Coastrek in just over 18 hours.
A year later, and in typical Ben fashion, the bar was risen a notch, and Ben, as the only blind participant together with his trusted guide John Faulkner, finished the 100-km Sydney Coastrek from Palm Beach to Coogee Beach in 33 hours and 30 minutes.
After Coastrek, Ben and I trained hard and took part in the 12-hour Centennial Park Ultra marathon to prepare for our big adventure in November – to run the iconic New York Marathon 2013, which Ben mastered in a new PB of 4 hours and 38 minutes.
How NOT to train for a Marathon in 10 weeks!
Ben’s training diary in large-print version (PDF 80KB)
Portrait of an Achilles Member: Ben There, Done That
From the Achilles Newsletter January 2012.
Ben features frequently in Achilles Heel. In the last edition, we told the story of Ben’s first marathon. Earlier stories featured Ben as an actor in a Beyond Vision production, a competitor in the Oxfam Trailwalker, and as a cricketer representing Australia. Further afield, Ben has recently been the subject of a story in Men’s Fitness magazine. Before Ben disappears into the world of Reality TV, we decided find out more about him.
Born in Penrith in 1980, Ben has had to cope with failing eyesight from his first years. He was born with a condition called aniridia; that is, without irises. Though legally blind in his childhood years, Ben was encouraged by his parents to get involved in life to the full. With a builder for a father, Ben was taken to projects and was often scrambling on roofs or running round the nearby bush looking for lizards and collecting cicada shells.
He spent his school years in Kiama, where he developed a love for beach sports, competing in surf-boat races and developing his swimming and body-board skills.
At school, his slowly deteriorating eyesight made his attempts to compete in athletics increasingly difficult. Ben found it necessary to switch to competitions designed for blind school-aged children. This resulted in him representing NSW Country at the Pan Pacific Games (now known as the Southern Cross Games). He won a number of silver and bronze medals in swimming, running and tug-o-war.
Ben was introduced to Blind Cricket at the age of 10. He was soon traveling to Sydney every second weekend to compete against adults in what he describes as “the ferocious” Sydney Blind Cricket competition. [Editor: Club members Charlie McConnell and Nick Gleeson were veterans of this competition and we can understand how the ferocity developed.]
In winter, Ben would ski at Thredbo, occasionally using trees and fences as course correctors more often than he would have liked.
Defying his declining vision, Ben maintained a vigorous outdoor life of hill-climbing, kayaking fishing and water-skiing. He also joined the SES for what proved to be “demanding physical work, cutting up cars and jumping off cliffs.” [We think Ben might have confused his volunteer stint with random acts of hooliganism but he assures us that it was all in a good cause.]
On the sports field, Ben attempted a whole range of team and individual activities. He was finding this increasingly difficult and had to abandon most of these pursuits. One notable exception was his involvement in a successful Rugby Union team that finished in the Top 8 in New South Wales. This successful schoolboy side also played Rugby League for the Kiama Red Devils (now the Kiama Knights). They appeared in four consecutive Grand Finals, losing the first but winning the other three. Ben describes himself as being “the biggest kid in the year”. “They put me in the front row, would hand me the ball, and I would charge into the defence as a battering ram.” He scored a number of tries and kicked a few goals. Things became a little tougher when opponents would notice that Ben and impaired vision and he became a target for high kicks and planned running moves.
In his last season, Ben was made captain of the team and he still fondly remembers the guard-of-honour that applauded him from the field at the end of his last game.
In 2000, Ben moved to Sydney and started playing Blind Cricket seriously. His efforts were rewarded in 2005 when he was selected to play for New South Wales. Ben has now played several times for Australia, including on a tour to the West Indies. He also resumed volunteer work with the NSW Police (2003) and the Children’s Hospital (2007).
Ben’s eyesight continued to deteriorate and in 2009, Nick Gleeson persuaded Ben to join Achilles. That year Ben ran his first City to Surf and signed himself out of the Sydney Eye Hospital to do so.
After running 10K races at Homebush and Orange, Ben, under the guidance of Club member and ultra-runner Markus Schar, tackled the Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon, completed the 100K Trailwalker and, again with the help of Markus and Ellis, completed the Blackmores Marathon. And that, as they say, is where we came in.
But while most of us were winding down at the end of the year, Ben was heading to Brisbane on December 27th to take part in an interstate cricket tournament. This will be followed in January by a training camp and, shortly afterwards, the announcement of the team that will contest The Ashes in England in June.
If he makes the team, he has promised to wear his Achilles shirt at some of England’s historic landmarks. [Just don’t wear it in the nightclubs, Ben.]
The photos on this page were supplied by Ben.