Taking the Lead: Running Guides Help the Blind


Up hills, around potholes, and through packs of other runners, Julia Hahn holds one end of a shoelace while Ivonne Mosquera holds the other. Hahn, a 39-year-old set designer in New York City, tugs on the shoelace to signal a quick turn as she and Mosquera gab in tantalizing detail about Hahns recent crush and Mosqueras new live-in boyfriend.

The two women may be tethered together by just a thin length of fabric, but the bond they share is much stronger. For the last three years, Hahn has been guiding 30-year-old Mosquera, blind since age 2, as a volunteer with the Achilles Track Club, a worldwide nonprofit group that trains disabled runners and matches them with able-bodied guides.

“Weve run so many races together that I cant even count them,” Hahn says. Their runs are part workout, part therapy session. “Other people go to the couch,” she says. “We go for a run together.”

Some volunteer guides help solely with short races and workouts, while others — like Hahn — also guide for long-distance events. Hahn has raced alongside 10 different Achilles runners and led many others through the clubs twice-weekly training runs. “It isnt even volunteer work anymore because I draw so much energy from this group,” Hahn explains.

For Hahn, Mosquera, and a bunch of other guides and runners, the companionship doesnt end when the pavement-pounding stops. The Saturday-morning run, for example, often leads directly into lunch. Then someone will suggest they spend the afternoon shopping, after which they may head to dinner together. “All of a sudden its 8 at night, and you havent been home,” Hahn says.

Hahn and Mosquera originally planned to tackle this years New York City Marathon, a race each has run previously. But they decided to take on a new challenge instead: the 37-mile Knickerbocker that loops through Central Park on November 17. In preparation, Hahn signed them up for a 30-mile race in August. But a race official urged her to withdraw, claiming the route would be too congested for a blind runner and guide to navigate safely.

Hahn immediately called Mosquera and said, “Thats it. Were doing it.”

They did, and they ended up placing third in the womens division. “I was doubly proud,” Hahn says. “Not only were we in the top three, but we also showed everyone that its really not a big deal for a blind runner and a guide to run a race.”

No big deal—just two women building muscles and breaking barriers, one tandem step at a time.

Become a race guide

The Achilles Track Club has chapters in 25 states and 60 countries. For more information, visit www.achillestrackclub.org and click on “Volunteer.” No chapter in your state? Contact a local organization for the disabled.