April 25, 2017 | Written by: Tim Powers
Categorized: Inclusive Workforce
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by David Wei, Development Manager, Watson Career Coach
With ear-splitting applause and screams, I cross the fabled finish line of 121th Boston Marathon, step by step with Erich Manser.
I had the opportunity of running the Marathon by being a running guide for Erich, a blind Marathoner, an Ironman, an IBM colleague, and my friend.
I first met Erich Manser two years ago in a typical hot summer day when I decided to join other IBMers in our Littleton, Mass. office as part of a running club.
“Let’s go,” said Erich, a tall guy with shade glasses, who works on the IBM Accessibility team. I started running by myself, without noticing the “Blind” sign on Erich’s yellow vest, leaving him standing there with wry smile. I was so embarrassed, but it was Erich who apologized to me.
Becoming a Member of “Team with a Vision”
Erich still likes to joke with me for this encounter. Admittedly, that was the first time in my life I have seen a blind runner, let alone a tall, fast runner. I officially began my “guiding career” from that moment and became one of the Manser Team in “Team with a Vision,” an international group of runners who are visually impaired and sighted guides who race to support individuals throughout Massachusetts living with vision loss.
The more I learned about Erich, the more I realized how much I complained – about bad weather, finding a good course to do my LSD (Long Slow Distance), or having nowhere and no-time for running during business travel. None of this slowed or deterred Erich.
Under his influence and guidance, I have also added swimming and cycling into my weekly training and competed my first triathlon (with Erich who is also a world class triathlete) in August 2016.
Photo: Alan Scherer Photographer
Erich and I train together 3-4 times each week for early morning swimming and running. Erich insists on sending cards and gifts for my rides and guiding help. It’s me who should be saying “thanks.”
I will always remember the pain in Erich’s face when he hit a roadside mailbox or falling when he stepped in a pothole. I never remember a single word of complaint coming out of his mouth. “Inspiring” is a heavily used term today. Erich just influences people around him silently in his own way.
In reality, Erich is the one who is the real guide. I just provide the rides and running lead.
Running the Boston Marathon
Due to frequent travels this year, Erich was not in his best form and he wasn’t sure if he could finish the full 26.2 miles. Despite of the lack of long distance training, the warm weather, the leg cramp at mile 24, I knew we would finish. My previous marathons were long, painful, suffering experiences. Not this one in Boston.
Knowing this might be my last race guiding Erich (I’m relocating to a new city), we were able to enjoy all the sights, sounds and spectator excitement on our way to the finish line.
At many times we were tapped on the shoulder by other runners and received encouraging words like “You inspired me today.” and “You are the real heroes.” Appreciative by the praises I received, I know it’s Erich who is the true inspiration.
As we held hands and the tether between us, we finished the 121st Boston Marathon (my first and Erich’s eighth).
Although I won’t be able to help Erich on his training on a weekly basis, my guiding career with Team with a Vision will continue. Erich made me re-think the purpose of running, and helping other blind runners in my new town is a natural next step.
I want to help inform others about oncoming potholes, low branches, or stopping cars. People may be surprised to find out how much they could receive back from these efforts.
They even might find a true friend, like I have in Erich.