In honor of 2 Million Mudders crossing our finish line, throughout the month of August, we'll be highlighting the personal fundraising efforts of inspiring Mudders. To learn more about running and raising for charity, visit our official 2 Million Mudders page.
Many people assume disabilities are easy to spot. Rhonda-Marie Avery is proof that they’re not.
Legally blind since birth, crossing the street alone can still seem like an insurmountable obstacle to Rhonda, who uses her cane only as a last resort.
With the help of her family and friends, however, she’s crossing more than just streets - she’s crossing some of North America’s most famous finish lines, and she’s doing so in support of Achilles International and Achilles Canada, the very organizations that gave her the confidence to run.
After getting wind of Rhonda’s inspiring story, we jumped on the phone with her to get her story in her own words. Here’s what she had to say in a recent interview.
What exactly does “legally blind” mean?
The “legally blind” limit is under 10 percent vision. I have eight. There are no cones in the back of my retina, so I have no daytime vision. I don’t do well in bright light. I have no color vision or depth perception. If someone says that there’s an obstacle over there, I don’t know how high it would be.
How long have you had 8 percent vision?
Since birth. I have something called achromatopsia complete.
How did this affect your childhood?
This was back in the eighties when people weren’t really aware. In gym class, I wrote essays on how to play soccer instead of learning how to play soccer. I don’t begrudge that. It was just the times. Kids weren’t very kind, but I think it was a generational thing.
Rhonda and one of her guides, Kate.
So when did running become part of your life?
I started running seven years ago when my son was a year old. It made me aware that I needed to take care of myself so I can take care of them. An email went out from my college noting that we had a cross country team. I got in touch with them and they directed me to Achilles Canada.
Since then you’ve built quite a running resume, no?
Achilles taught me to run one minute and then walk one minute. I started with a 5k, then a 10k, a half marathon and a couple of marathons. I qualified for vision impaired entry into the Boston Marathon. I did a 48 hour trail race and completed 100 miles. I did a triathlon in Toronto in 2014. In 20 days, I covered all 885 kilometers of [Ontario’s] Bruce Trail with 50 volunteers. During that journey, I raised $6,000 for Achilles Canada because of the help and support they gave me.
How did you find out about Tough Mudder?
I was introduced to Tough Mudder by Kate Solovieva, who I met at a run club meeting. She came on the Bruce Trail with me. I don’t think she wanted to get electrocuted alone. She did Tough Mudder Toronto blindfolded because she knew we were going to run Tough Mudder Tri-State together.
Tell us what it was like being out on course.
The biggest thing is trust. If I wear my sunglasses, I can see a bit and follow clues and shadows and judge a little. When I need to jump off something, I hand my glasses off, and I can’t see.
You need to step past the fear and do it anyway.
Everyone’s screaming, so I can’t hear my name from the guides. Atop Walk the Plank, I have to take that leap even if I don’t know what the next breath might bring. You need to step past the fear and do it anyway.
What was it like running up [the] Everest [obstacle]?
Hilarious. Everest is white, so I couldn’t see it at all. You follow the noise and just hope it’s going to be a soft landing. I didn’t know what would happen. You just go, jump and reach. I got it on my first try. Total fluke.
You’ve called each Tough Mudder obstacle a “mindful metaphor.” Can you explain that?
Running obstacle courses is a way to deal with the emotional on a physical plane. When there’s a hurdle in life, it’s difficult to put it into a manageable problem. With physical, concrete obstacles, you overcome them and it gives you freedom. It’s not just a metaphor for people with disabilities. If you lose your job because your skill set is outdated, you need to find a way out of that tangled box.
On the fundraising front, you seem to feel there’s more to raise than just money.
Everyone went home and talked about running with a blind girl. That spreads. Even if an effort doesn’t bring in dollars, changing people is way more important. Several people have become Achilles volunteers because they ran with me. Several have been in contact with disabled family members and have promoted an active space. Whether it’s signing up for a race or applying for a job they didn’t think they’d get, action inspires people to put themselves out there.
What advice do you have for people on the fence about doing a Tough Mudder?
It doesn’t matter who you go with or what you wear, you’re going to leave with thousands of new friends and people will have your back. Tough Mudder is community based. You show up at Tough Mudder and everyone gathers. It’s a team. Check your ego at the door or you don’t survive.