A Running Story That Starts With a Rope
This running story is more about hands than feet. The same sport, the same drive. The only difference is an extra piece of rope between hands. With every step forwards, companionship, encouragement and passion are passed from one end to the other.
"The benefits brought to my life from running are not only physical. Running gets me out and stops me festering at home", says Youyou, a visually impaired runner and member of Lan Jingling (Blue Eye Spirit), a charity organisation that advocates for inclusive sports. Now in its fifth year, Lan Jingling was formed by a band of pacers.
Note: every visually impaired runner needs the help of at least one escort to reach different running goals. For visually impaired runners like Youyou preparing for a marathon, at least three partners are required: namely the pacer, the lead runner and the rear runner. With a clear division of work and tacit cooperation, the formation ensures a safe and stable pace for visually impaired athletes.
Yachi has been pacing for Youyou for several years. They crashed into each other repeatedly when they first tried running with the 30cm-long rope between them. Now, they run like each other's clones. When preparing for a competition, more escorts join them, forming a running formation. Who knows how many mornings, dusks, harsh winters and scorching summers the formation has experienced together? Beyond the running track, there's no rope and no need for the formation, but another kind of bond, this one invisible, still connects them tightly.
"I'm watching them".
On the occasion that he doesn't post a selfie, it might be because "I'm having a bad hair day", says Youyou.
Don't be surprised, for as far as Youyou is concerned, there's nothing missing in his world, including sight. Youyou is just "watching" in a different way.
At 21, he is an AI data annotator—a kind of instructor that trains AI to understand human demands more accurately.
But when faced with the real world, he is the student, full of curiosity and eager to understand and try everything.
He likes to take pictures of life's precious moments. With the help of voice assist, he has become a master mobile phone photographer. He takes selfies with friends, silly travel snaps, photos of his early morning runs and windswept seascapes.
Somewhat of a social butterfly, Youyou often organises offline runners' meetups. Although he can't see their faces, after just a few words, he can quickly identify the people he's exchanged voice messages with online. "I'm watching them", he insists.
Running is another window via which Youyou can "see" the world.
In addition to Yachi, Yao Ying and Xiao Yu'er also escort Youyou within the Lan Jingling group. Along with regular running events, they often accompany Youyou to training, helping him gradually improve and reach his personal goals.
During training, Yao Ying runs at the front, Yachi is on Youyou's left and Xiao Yu'er is at the back. Watching them run from behind, the unbreakable formation seems to surround Youyou but in fact, all of them are surrounded by the unbreakable force of friendship.
"The pacers must be faster than the visually impaired runners to ensure that they can run safely and make progress", says Yachi. Having run with Youyou the longest, he explains that besides physical training, they have also worked hard to forge a real "connection".
When they run, a 30cm-long blue rope connects Youyou's left wrist to Yachi's right. They move in unison like each other's mirror image, using the rope as a form of communication.
When Yachi and Youyou's stride length and pace are consistent, the rope will naturally relax, letting them know they're "in the groove" and perfectly in sync. "When two people are in the groove, you don't actually need to talk too much about running", says Yachi.
The force of the rope is mutual.
Thanks to the rope, running is no longer a lonely pursuit, explains Yachi. In order to keep this rope slack at all times, he needs to train hard on his own to ensure he can deal with various scenarios. "But I don't do this for charity", he says. "This is a unity of mutual achievements. I am not only helping him improve, he is also urging me to persevere and be strong".
More than runners
While Youyou feels that modern people generally "live" on mobile phones, his friends are very real.
"Yachi, Auntie Yao and Xiao Yu'er are more like guides who lead me to explore the world", he says. As running allows him to get out of the house, it also makes him even more motivated to meet them.
Together they sing karaoke, check out new hot restaurants and visit the suburbs so Youyou can "feel the noise" outside of the city. "After so long, I am not just a running partner, but more like a friend, a family member", says Youyou.
Training is no longer the only purpose of their runs. It also allows them to hang out together as friends.
When they go out to eat, Youyou says he doesn't really like the restaurants that are overly attentive because he's visually impaired. This kind of "excessive care" makes him feel uncomfortable.
Yachi, Yao Ying and Xiao Yu'er all know how much Youyou desires new experiences and often rack their brains trying to think how to make him feel more and more.
Sometimes, they take Youyou up the embankment and let him face the wind coming off the sea. They break through the safety barriers so he can feel the adrenalin surging through him. Once it's there, they take another step and then run for a while.
In physics, when sound waves of the same wavelength meet, they resonate at the same frequency and cause stronger oscillations. In Youyou, Yachi, Yao Ying and Xiao Yu'er, this resonance has occurred. If they keep running together like this, what else will they experience? No matter how much progress is made, what exciting competitions await, running has allowed them to connect and head into the unknown together, which in itself is a great achievement.