When COVID-19 hit India, we jumped into action to help them prepare for the challenges,even before the lockdown started in India. It is a special concern for Visually Impaired as they mostly rely on touch.
The ones with Visibility disorder from needy families are a diverse group, experiencing different hardships in accessing information on prevention and risk of infection.
Firstly we shared COVID-19 precautions as per WHO guidelines with them through audio messages with translations in different regional languages like Hindi, Telugu, Marathi, Kannada. The guidelines was shared with the volunteers, who then communicated with the visually impaired in their respective languages either by phone or whatsapp.
We parallelly prepared a list of Visuallyimpaired who were in city, or left for their villages / hometown to stay with parents. We also checked with blind Institute or NGOs about the measures they had taken at the premises and hostel facility. If there was any shortage, we helped fulfill the requirement for hand gloves, masks, and sanitizers with the help of donations. About 600 hand gloves, several masks, sanitizers were distributed prior to lockdown.
We soon realized that that there were quite a lot of visually impaired elderly left alone at home. This prompted us to start assigning phone buddy to each of them to keep track of how they were doing. The buddy would keep the phone numbers of neighbor, maid and local ward ration shop (government outlet) and other helpline numbers to support the visually impaired.
We soon started receiving calls for help from the needy families esp. Mumbai slums for groceries and medicines. The daily wage workers were out of cash and no means to buy essentials. Many times the free food distribution and ration was available but they were unaware of this information. So the buddy volunteer became a very critical part to reach the information or the essential items. Over the last three weeks we have supported at least 200 families to get their ration and essentials.
The Phone Buddy also encourage and motivate the visually impaired to take care of their health and fitness and improve immunity by explaining how to do simple home workouts. This keeps them happy and healthy in these difficult times.
Boston Marathon 2019…an incredible experience… for each one who attempted. Out of the 9 International Full Marathons I completed since 2015…. this was the most enriching episode in my running journey, since this was my first international marathon as an official guide runner, and more so because it was to Erich Manser, my fellow IBMer and fellow marathoner.
I was just recovering from my first ultra – marathon 145 km, with shin injury after me, where 6 of my visually impaired mentees successfully finished the run in January this year, when I received the confirmation about the Boston marathon guide running. Nervousness clouded me soon after the confirmation, but I took up the challenge realizing that this will be the most important milestone in my guide running experience and for bringing home more awareness in this area. I have mentored a number of visually impaired athletes and their guides for long distance running and simultaneously have run many races as a guide runner myself. But this race event was and will always be a special one. After all this was the world renowned Boston Marathon and also I knew Erich not only as a fellow IBMer, but as the World Champion Iron man and my excitement was at its peak since the day I registered as official sighted guide.
Like Erich already quoted in his blog, yes we were those virtual friends of the Hi – Hello kind, meeting online occasionally over work. But when Erich learnt about my initiatives of mentoring the visually impaired and sighted guides in Bangalore, my volunteering as a Head Coach Pinkathon Training, Samarthanam Trust to the Disabled and Mitra Jyothi Institute for the Blind,for supporting the underprivileged as a part of ‘See from the Heart’ initiative, he regularly lent his invaluable advice in all my endeavours. We occasionally had telephonic discussions about how to exploit technology for accessibility. The pieces of advice from Erich have always been so priceless for he has his own set of experiences as a Technology savvy marathon runner and therefore has so much of cognizance to share.
I met Erich face to face for the first time in Boston when we picked up the race kit.
Impage:Athletes with Disability Bib pickup
Guide and Blind Bib collection with Erich
We did the Shakeout run a day before race and we gelled together so quickly. During the run we discussed preferred usage of tether. By using a tether – a short hooped cord – both runners are connected at the hand to negotiate the course.
We also discussed that the run will be at conversation pace. Other things included race day weather and gear, water station stops, adjustments to the tether and about how to carry out effective communication during the run, how to deal with crowded sections of the run etc.
I further got to spend more time with him and the other athletes at a team dinner and team brunch organized by ‘Team With A Vision’
It was a marathon information session as well as stage for the other athletes to share their previous race experiences. We were given tips on race, guide running and logistics. The heart- warming get-together helped clear pre-race doubts and fears.
The transport arrangements to the venue, special temperature controlled area at the start point, the post – race bags pickup and arrangements at VIP tent; IBM and NBC media representatives to interview us at finish line,’Team With A Vision’ volunteers to guide, every arrangement so orderly.
I knew last year was extreme weather with rain and severe cold and it made me more nervous to see forecast had showers again this year. My acclimatization runs in Boston prior to the race, helped me get settled in. Being prone to cough and cold, I took special precaution with intake of immunity boosters like vit c etc. Prior to the race, I did a marathon bus tour to familiarize myself with the route.and prepared for the changing weather conditions, with water resistant as well as cold resistant running gear.
Two day prior to full marathon, enjoyed a rainy weather Boston 5K with my daughter and husband.
The route and the weather during the Boston Marathon really made the run more arduous, but I could clearly see how prepared Erich was. The tough ascents, mercurial weather with rain at the outset followed by hot sun and later thunderstorms did not seem to affect him at all. Though the rains in the last few kilometres masked the sweltering heat, the steep ascents were difficult for me. Hills are a total ‘No No’ for me when it comes to the latter part of a race. But as Erich and I had discussed earlier, we took a conservative approach and slowed down. The Heartbreak hill ascent after 25 km was darn cruel on the quads, but Erich motivated me and I overcame the difficulty. Later when Erich encountered fatigue after mile 23, it was my turn to encourage him. Thus with good mutual rhythm we pulled through the tough route and picked up pace near the finish line. Chatting all the way, cracking jokes and boosted up by the crowds and fellow runners cheering, “Team Vision go! ““Erich and Bhumika, you guys rock!!!” all the way through the route, my family and friends from India cheered loud close to finish line, made our finish so easy but emotional.
In my years of training the visually impaired and running as a guide to them, there have been numerous anecdotes to tell, numerous incidents, happenings. But none of them can beat the fantastic experience of Boston marathon. Running apart, there was great encouragement from my workplace IBM and colleagues across the world sent amazing messages of support.It was a great learning experience. I have been reading Erich’s blog about his experiences at the Boston Marathon over and over again; he ends it with citing and I too would reiterate the same, “Kindness is a very powerful thing. Though we are from very different places, we will now be forever joined by kindness”.