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Several times a week, you can find Julie Ackiss running on the greenway in Matthews, but she’s never alone. You’ll always find Julie running with a good friend, laughing and chatting about their kids along the way.

A year ago, this wouldn’t have been the case. A fully blind mother of two, Julie had never considered running before. She and her guide dog, Fiesta, would often go on walks but running had never been something she considered. A Facebook post from Para Guide changed all that.
An organization that pairs sited guides with the visually impaired, Para Guide seeks to enrich lives through physical activity. Guides are available for running, cycling and swimming.

“For the blind, fitness is often not a priority,” Julie said. “When you can't see, activities such as walking/running, bike-riding, swimming and many other outdoor activities are off limits to us without guides. Para Guide makes these things possible for those of us who are willing to take a step of faith and hold on to the tether attached to another person.”

Julie running at Freedom Park with Para Guide co-founder Shannon Houlihan

Julie’s friend Kimberly saw the same Facebook post and asked Julie if she’d like to run with her. The two trained and ran in Julie’s first 5K in December 2017. Since, Julie has improved her time, running in other 5Ks and even competed in her first triathlon in June.
Guides like Kimberly participate in training to become a Para Guide. During training, they practice being tethered to a partner and learn to give verbal cues that allow their partners to be active safely.

“A good guide is focused on the run and what’s in front of them,” Julie said. “I put my full trust in them and they never let me down. I just think that with so much bad stuff that happens in the world today, that there are still so many good people like the Para Guides who are willing to give up their time so a person like myself can accomplish goals that may have seemed impossible.”

As grateful as Julie is for the guides that allow her to train and participate in races, the guides themselves are grateful for the experience they have.

Julie competes in the cycling portion of her first triathlon alongside her guide

“The reward for me is giving back and sharing an experience with someone who may not otherwise have been able to compete,” said Para Guide co-founder Paul Harrold. “It allows me to fall back in love with the sport.”

Know an athlete who needs a sited guide or someone who would like to volunteer as a guide themselves? Learn more about Para Guide and fill out an interest form.

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