Paralympian hopeful races alongside former mayor
Hundreds of LED headlamps bobbed along the Bow River path on Nov. 17 as 800 people participated in the third annual Sight Night run.
While the headlamps helped many of the participants navigate the icy path, some simply didn't need them.
The 3 or 8 kilometre walk and run is not only for those fortunate enough to see, but for the blind as well.
The run is traditionally held after sunset to even the playing field. Fortunately, Calgary's unpredictable weather played nice and blessed participants with mild snow-melting temperatures.
Leading the pack tackling the 8 kilometer run was blind athlete Aron Ghebreyohannes, who started off the run alongside former mayor Dave Bronconnier.
Sight Night was organized by the Alberta Sports and Recreation Association for the Blind (ASRAB), which offers programs and funds to visually impaired Albertan's like Ghebreyohannes enjoy active living and competitive sports.
Ghebreyohannes underwent surgery to remove a deadly brain tumour at theage of five. He was left with no vision in his right eye and poor vision in his left eye making him legally blind.
At age 15 he was introduced to ASRAB and a sport called goalball. Goalball is a 3-on-3 Paralympic sport where players are blindfolded and attempt to throw a ball into the opponents net.
"Ever since I started goalball my confidence and my self-motivation have gone up," he said.
Now the 22-year-old plays on the Alberta goalball team and is trying for the 2016 Paralympic team with the support of ASRAB.
"I'm participating to give back to the organization for everything they've done for me and to show everyone that blind and visually impaired people can compete in sports," he said.
Blind athlete and Paralympian Kevin Kaminski, said, "The run was designed to welcome everybody."
Participants varied in age and sight abilities from four-month old twin boys to a 91-year-old visually-impaired World War II veteran.
Kaminski said he created Sight Night to "raise the profile of the Alberta Sports and Recreation Association for the Blind (ASRAB) and blind sports as well as to raise funds."
After Kaminski retired from his career as a blind athlete in 2008, he said he wanted to make sure that visually impaired Albertans would continue to have sport and recreational opportunities and Sight Night could help achieve that.
The inaugural Sight Night run/walk was held in Calgary in 2010. The first event had 600 participants who raised $85,000 for the association. Last year, 675 runners raised $110,000 to support blind and partially sighted athletes.
This year, they raised $100,000.
Kaminski said they want to do their donors justice so 100 per cent of those funds go to supporting athletes like Ghebreyohannes and Carla Shibley.
Shibley, who only has peripheral vision, said the association helped her to be competitive in sports after she finished high school. She now plays on the women's provincial goalball team.
She said she ran the 8 kilometre stretch this year to show support and say thank you.
But the funds raised at Sight Night aren't just used for competitive athletes like Shibley and Ghebreyohannes. They are used to offer everything from yoga to tandem cycling to the blind community to help them get active, said Kaminski.
These programs are what brought Joel Armitage and his 9-year-old son Josh to the event. The pink-cheeked father and son duo sat against a wall chowing down on the pizza and cake offered to participants post-run.
Joel suffers from glaucoma –nerve damage in the eyes – and he said Sight Night is an opportunity to support ASRAB and the work they do to help the visually impaired community.
As runners and walking groups sprinted through the finish line, bells rang and volunteers cheered. Parents hugged their kids and serious racers high-fived, checking their times. And there was a buzz of feel-good energy in the air.
- By Devon Jolie