Run in pace, following a pacer

With a simple gymnastics band, Usher patient Ivonne Bressers (51) from Arnhem keeps direct contact with her buddy, Edith Mulder during the 7 Hills Run.
Mulder: ‘If necessary, I call “high” to let Ivonne know that she has to lift up her knees a bit higher for, for instance, a threshold. Or I call “right” or “left” when we have to go around a hole or a puddle. I love doing this. Everykilometre is exciting, but really beautiful too!’

Out of the 35,000 participants of the 7 Hills Run held on 19 November, 144 people ran in the Run4Usher team to collect money for research for the benefit of people suffering from Usher Syndrome. This hereditary disease can lead to full deafness as well as blindness. In this fourth year of their participation in the running event, the number of participants was doubled and at this moment twice as much money has been collected as well. Apart from runners without an impairment there also is a small number of people with an impairment, like Bressers.

About 1.5 metre before and after Bressers and Mulder three ‘pacers’ are running, who keep the path clear for a total of seven badly hearing and seeing runners of the Run4Usher team. Bressers: ‘I thoroughly enjoy this. Because of my impairments everything goes slowly in my life. When running, I can give myself a free rein. Besides, we enjoy each other’s company.’ Bressers fully trusts her buddy and the pacers.
‘This was my first 7 Hills Run and it went very well. Fortunately, it was only raining exactly before and after the run. One time someone was grumbling about the pacers until she saw who we were and she excused herself a thousand times.’ Bressers was very satisfied with the wonderful route along the hills.

Annouk van Nunen (41) from Leiden also ran with her permanent buddy, Leen Ooms. Ooms thinks it is great to be able to offer blind and visually impaired people this experience. ‘It is a really responsible task. People cannot see straight away that people with an impairment are running here. Especially not at a crowded event like this. The runners and their buddies are running widely and therefore have to pass widely. Sometimes we really have to elbow our way through the crowd, when necessary with a lot of noise, to clear the way for our runners.’

Four people suffering from Usher Syndrome also ran the 7 Hills Night. This was extra difficult because of their night-blindness. The disease is progressive and shows itself in a lot of variations. It often begins with being hard of hearing until night-blindness is developed in puberty and later tunnel vision. Bressers: ‘It is like she is looking through a straw. I cannot see anything outside that central point. For my hearing I now have implants, but there is no remedy yet for the blindness. I really hope more research will be done soon. The solutions may also be applicable to other eye disorders.’
The woman from Arnhem finds it hard to be forced to accept the growing loss of two senses. ‘The possibilities to compensate the one impairment with the other are decreasing as well. Still, I try to find a balance between asking for help and being independent over and over again. Fortunately, more and more actions are organised and Usher Syndrome is becoming increasingly widely known.’

Source: De Gelderlander, Nijmegen e.o.
By: Loes Wijffels
Photo: Gerard Verschooten