But my journey began closer to home, with the New York City Marathon in which I was first supposed to guide Oidvin.
Achilles International is a nonprofit that matches guides with disabled athletes. You can get paired just for race day. Becoming a guide is a bit like applying for college. Write an essay. Instead of test scores, you submit race results. Then, a few months beforehand, you may get matched. I was selected as one of several guides for Oidvin.
We exchanged countless emails leading up to the race. The benefits of technology: Oidvin relies on an iPhone voice-recognition app for messaging.
She was born in South Korea, and adopted by a family living by one of Norway’s picture-postcard fjords. Her family raised her to believe that she could do anything. She went to college, became a physical therapist, and now lives with her husband and two daughters near where she was raised.
She began running longer distances after she met a veteran guide who persuaded her to try. “For the first time in my life, I felt I could do sports,” she said. “The feeling was amazing.”
Oidvin has since relied on dozens of guides, including a doctor, a scientist and a pastor, to compete in races.
She dislikes the tethers preferred by some blind runners. Instead, she wants guides to run beside her and describe what lies ahead. As I prepared for the big day, I found myself looking at roads differently, thinking how I could quickly tell her what she needed to know, hoping I didn’t get tongue-tied as fatigue set in.
New York was her dream marathon, and she invested her savings to make the trip.
Then Hurricane Sandy struck. She understood that the race might need to be canceled. But Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg insisted it would go on, so she flew to New York.
Less than two days before the start, the mayor finally canceled the event. Oidvin was inconsolable over losing months of training with other guides and much of her savings. She was unsure she would get another chance.
That night I worked on an alternative and secured the last slot in a small Pennsylvania marathon. Her disappointment was erased. I wrote about Oidvin’s travails, and the Norwegian news media picked up on the saga. Local businesses sponsored her return for the next New York City Marathon.
Oidvin performed so well she qualified for the Boston Marathon, and when we ran there in 2015, despite bitter cold and cramps, she won as the fastest blind woman. Perhaps we should not have been surprised. She had already twice won the Oslo half-marathon in her division.
Last winter she won an essay contest to run in Spitsbergen. But her previous marathon had not gone well. She was hospitalized for dehydration, and now she was questioning her abilities.
She asked if I would work with Hakon Fram Stokka, a Norwegian cycling team veteran, to guide her. I had bad news: An injury had sidelined me for months, and I was uncertain I could do the job. She encouraged me to give it a try.
Now, running in Spitsbergen, reaching a stretch where the road became quiet and there were few people, I reached for a water bottle for Oidvin. The dry air left us parched, and in this small race, there were few fluid stations.
Though the temperatures were hovering a little above freezing, the climate was comfortable. The wind was still. The sun was beginning to warm us.
We cut along the fjord heading out of town, then looped back along the harbor and by an icebreaker ship.
Now the hard part. A long grind up a hilly gravel road, past machinery that moved coal mined on the island, and then a quick descent to where we had started.
We were only halfway done. We had to complete the circuit again.
Oidvin was doing well. Stokka was strong. But after 20 miles, on the climb back up the hill, I was struggling. The calf I had injured was in pain.
One thing I had learned about guiding was to worry only about how my runner was doing. The experience is a rare moment when running truly does not feel like an individual pursuit.
The last thing I wanted was to slow down Oidvin.
I told Stokka and Oidvin to go on. I would meet them at the finish. The last part of any marathon is unpredictable. It’s why many disabled athletes have more than one guide in an endurance race. They can keep going.
But Oidvin refused.
“We finish together,” she said.
I was surprised and guilt stricken. Stokka gave me a hand as I worked out the worst of the cramps.
Once more we passed the mining machinery and reached the top of the hill. The clouds had mostly dissipated. We descended into town.
Somehow we crossed the finish line together. Oidvin later ascended the podium. She finished second among women in her age group.
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