A vision-impaired runner will join the SSI team in City2Surf 2017 thanks to a connection his Ability Links linker made with the Achilles Running Club in Sydney.
SSI City2Surf team member Zhen Hua Lin with his Ability Links linker Li Hua Chu and training partner Brian O'Dea.
Zhen Hua Lin, a participant in the Ability Links NSW (ALNSW) program, was told about running in the City2Surf by his linker, Li Hua Chu.
From early childhood, Mr Lin had always loved running but three years ago he went from being totally active to living in a nursing home after an allergic reaction to antibiotics rendered him blind.
He could no longer run and was reluctant to venture outside. His fitness deteriorated.
Concord Hospital case workers referred Mr Lin to ALNSW, a free program that SSI delivers to support people with disability. It is designed to help them plan for their future by building on their strengths and skills.
Ms Chu found a way to get Mr Lin out of his house and start training. She contacted the Achilles Running Club, which offers a supportive social environment for people with disabilities to achieve life changing goals through training and participation in running and walking events.
At Achilles she found Brian O'Dea, a volunteer who jumped at the challenge.
Mr O'Dea said Achilles sought to get people with disability to enjoy the benefits of exercise. “We exist for people like Mr Lin,” he said.
“This kind of exercise can be life changing. We’ve been delighted how by giving people the opportunity we can change things for them.”
After three years with no activity outside his house, Mr Lin is now getting exercise in the open air, training on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
And he is already much healthier.
When training began, Mr Lin’s aerobic fitness was so bad he couldn’t run for more than two minutes.
After six weeks training, Mr O'Dea has noticed that Lin is getting stronger aerobically. He can run 10 kilometres. Now Mr O'Dea is worried that, by the time City2Surf comes on August 13, Mr Lin will be dragging him around.
City2Surf and beyond
Mr Lin said he was keen to be involved in the City2Surf because it was a charitable event and it gave him the opportunity to participate and improve his own fitness.
Mr O'Dea was aware that, while it was great to set goals and training for the City2Surf was an incredible opportunity for Mr Lin to get outdoors, it was also important to think about what would happen next. What were the opportunities beyond the City2Surf?
Mr O'Dea put out a message through the Achilles club and found Mr Lin further support at the Devils running club at Rhodes, which has a number of Mandarin speakers, including Sabrina Wang.
He said Ms Wang and the Devils club had been very welcoming of Mr Lin, had already taken him on 10 kilometre runs, and would have a very positive impact on Mr Lin’s future running.
Mr O'Dea has also recruited Chinese-speaking runners to support Lin and work as “tour guides” during the City2Surf.
Mr O'Dea said running with a group offered practical benefits plus it was better socially.
“We know running is health-giving but it’s more than that. Society can keep people out — not deliberately — but we don’t make it easy for some people,” he said.
“At Achilles we’ve had people do Mount Kilimanjaro, Everest base camp and the Kokoda Trail. But seeing someone do their first five kilometre run is just as worthwhile.”
Mr Lin said the best thing about his training sessions was experiencing the outdoors and using his senses — hearing people, feeling water, knowing when he was running over a bridge.
Another happy time is when he has a coffee with Mr O'Dea.
They are good companions.
Mr Lin said he was grateful Mr O'Dea was looking after him and was so joyful to be running with him every week. And he was happy that after City2Surf, there would be a social and running outlet for him.
The benefit is mutual.
Mr O'Dea said, since he was returning from an ankle injury, running with Mr Lin was good for him too. And Mr Lin is a professional masseur who can return the favour when Brian’s shoulders get stiff and sore.
One of many angels
Mr O’Dea is a former soccer player who now loves running to keep fit. He has been running with the Achilles club for nine years.
Now 71, he has run in 11 marathons and in November he will accompany a blind member of the Achilles Running Club in the New York Marathon.
SSI Community Engagement Coordinator Marcela Hart described Mr O'Dea as “one of those many angels that we seem to find often in our field”.
She said Mr O'Dea’s partnership with Mr Lin was community engagement at its best: a connection that provided Mr Lin with many other opportunities.
City2Surf was a wonderful exercise for connecting people, she said. And there was the added bonus of being able to fundraise for SSI.
“We are all part of an exceptional team that does make a difference,” she said.
Follow this link to join Mr Lin and Team SSI in the 2017 City2Surf.