Operation Peer Support (OPS) News
Compiled by Dan Wallace, Chair, OPS Committee
California International Marathon Brings First Time Experiences for Blinded Veterans
By Tim Hornik
Since 2007, the California International Marathon’s (CIM) blind division unites blinded runners and volunteers from around the world. The CIM’s blind division is coordinated by Richard Hunter, a blinded Marine, who inspires thousands of blinded athletes and sighted guides to try blind running. Richard and the CIM empowers blinded veterans to establish new goals for fitness and integrate adaptive sports into their lives.
In total, 51 visually- impaired runners and nearly 75 volunteers and sighted guides made the event possible. Of the blind runners, 12 are Veterans, four of whom ran the entire marathon, one came from the Blinded Veterans of the United Kingdom, and six were above the age of 64. Through this diversity the CIM featured two unique first-time experiences.
One of these involved the first-ever older blinded veteran relay teams. The two relay teams demonstrated that age and running abilities should not prevent participation. Team members and race results were as follows:
Blinded Veterans Team 1: Finish 5:45:54
- Romero Contreras: California,
- Steve Hofheimer: Florida,
- Doug Money: California;
- Robert Dale Stamper: Idaho
Blinded Veterans Team 2: Finish Time: 5:26:11
- Dave Bigoney: Florida
- Joe Burns: Louisiana
- Will Lopez: Texas
- Tom Monroe: Colorado
Richard Hunter believes participation only requires one’s willingness to challenge themselves to run or walk the distance. For example, Steve Hofheimer invited Joe Burns to be a part of the team. If not for their bonds of friendship starting when they first met in Vietnam, Joe may not have volunteered. However, he remarked, “I was even more excited when he said walkers were welcome.”
Joe Burns (left), past President of BVA and honorary member of the board, dressed in a Marine exercise shirt posing with his sighted guide (right).
The key to completing these types of events involves understanding your capabilities and setting a reasonable training plan. Joe recalled his previous experience when training for his 15 marathons. He stated he “set about preparing to do it. My training schedule was modeled after my running days. I tried to do at least 5 miles a day with one day devoted to speed work, and one day off. My goal was to average 15 minutes a mile.” Remaining devoted to this plan, Joe completed his 10k leg with a time of 1:33.
The second first time experience at the 2017 CIM proves the importance of the BVA’s Project Gemini. Derrin Blanks is a member of the Blinded Veterans of the United Kingdom(BVUK). After losing his sight several years ago, he felt a drive to restore his independence through blind running. Over the last couple of years he embarked upon a goal to run for BVUK at events like the London Marathon and many local races. After participating during the 2017 Project Gemini exchange, his friendship with Kathy Champion enabled him to connect with Richard Hunter. This simple exchange provided Derrin with the opportunity to not only crush the CIM with a full marathon time of 3:32.26, but qualify for the Boston Marathon.
The visual impairment portion of CIM would not have been possible without the efforts of the volunteers, sighted guides and Richard Hunter. The CIM deeply touches all those involved. For ophthalmologist, Dr. Vincent Hau, he tearfully thanked each of the Vietnam Veterans. Dr. Hau’s mother was pregnant with him while she boarded the boats during the fall of Saigon. Similarly, Dr. Joann Helmus, an optometrist, stated, “The chance to be a guide runner has been the best CIM experience for me. While I've run nearly 70 marathons or ultras, and paced other runners in many conditions and distances, connecting with other people through our shared enjoyment of running is the most significant aspect of running for me. Being a guide runner allows me to do that. Guiding is especially fulfilling, because I know for sure that my runner would not reach his goal without my assistance.”
As the blind division of the CIM demonstrates, we each must view adaptive sporting and recreational programs as more than hobbies. These programs need to become a part of rehabilitation goals, regional group activities, and even our own fitness goals. The resulting benefits include providing the tools needed to combat obesity, promote disability acceptance, forge lasting community bonds, and finally restore the Blinded Veterans Association’s prominence.
Operation Peer Support Annual Deer Hunt
By Don Bickham
We are happy to announce that participants in this year’s Fall Deer Hunt were successful. All of these veterans are members of the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) and were excited to have the opportunity to participate in this event.
This year the team at Heroes New Hope Foundation, have been working with a new scope that allowed more flexibility for the veterans. Heroes New Hope Foundation, with the support of the BVA’S Operation Peer Support (OPS), organized an all-inclusive deer hunting trip for blinded veterans during the last week of November. This event hosted four blinded veterans for an all-inclusive deer hunt which included travel, lodging, license fees, tags, and meals. All attendees had a professional guide to assist them in all aspects of the event. The attendees included; Don Bickham – Florida, Dale Smith - New Mexico, Eric Marts – Minnesota, and Brian Harris – Chicago.
Following are a few comments from our hunters:
BVA members (left to right) Scott Stingley, Dale Smith Jr, and Dale Smith Sr. kneeling on the ground after a successful hunt.
“My appreciation and thankfulness to you and all of the volunteers and supporters of Heroes New Hope that provided such an awesome experience on my deer hunt. Not only did I get my first deer ever, (A seven pointer) but this was the first time I have not experienced any pain in cold weather or other concerns. I told my primary care Doctor to find out if she could write a prescription and let the VA pay for it and they might save money on medication.”
“It was not just the hunt that made the whole experience so memorable and therapeutic, everyone that was involved showed love, dedication and commitment to making sure we were ok and checking if we needed anything.”
“I had Uncle Darryl and Mick as my guides and I must say they have to be the best hunters in Indiana. Lol.”
“If someone had told me I could shoot a deer that I couldn't touch in front of me, I would have thought no way in heck I could. The experience humbled me and besides knowing that I can do something that was impossible for me, my whole world has changed.”
Again, thanks to Scott Goodman, president of the foundation, and all the great people on Heroes New Hope Foundation.
BVA members (left to right) Brian Harris, Scott Goodman, Eric Marts, and Scott Stingley posing for the camera in a group shot.
OPS Announces Blind Appalachian Trail Event
Blind Appalachian Trail (BAT) program is run by the Blinded Veterans Association Operation Peer Support (BVA OPS) to get visually impaired veterans of various abilities out to experience the Appalachian Trail. Participants complete sections of the trail over time, around specific dates to memorialize great military accomplishments that represent the freedom gained by overcoming our adversaries. The idea is to allow participants the opportunity to overcome their own adversities due to their injuries as well as raise awareness and understanding among the general public and among those who face similar challenges.
Our first mission will begin in June of 2018. American and British Blind Veterans will trek the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail. Supported by guides and local communities, the international expedition will travel 75+ miles over rugged and rocky terrain reaching elevations of 4,400 feet from the Georgia border at Bly Gap to Springer Mountain.
The veterans who will participate in this hike are motivated, dedicated and driven to memorialize the June 6, 1944 Allied invasion of Normandy, France. During their trek the team members will discuss important historical facts and history of the June 1944 invasion, all the while remembering those honorable service members who came before them.
For more information about the trail event and the day's activities onsite, please visit www.blindat.org.