Two teachers at Alabama School for the Blind are going the extra mile for their students, too. Well, not just one extra mile. One is going 13.1 miles and the other is going 26.2 miles. That’s miles in the literal sense, as in putting their feet to the pavement.
Valerie Burrage and Troy Haynes are serving as guides for five ASB runners who are participating in the Mercedes Marathon Relay in Birmingham Sunday. This will be the first time a group of runners from the school has participated in such an event.
“It’s something we wanted to do,” said Haynes. “We wanted to do it last year; we just couldn’t figure out how to do all the logistics and the red tape. We knew it would be a lot of work.”
Burrage said just planning for the event meant jumping a few hurdles.
“The school closes Saturday, so that is what’s been the problem, because we have no staff to stay with the kids,” she said. “We’re staying at the Sheraton and then we’ll take them home Sunday and they won’t come back to school until Tuesday. It’s something that we’ve wanted to do for two years. We just thought it would be neat to let the kids go and experience that.”
The Mercedes Marathon Relay is part of the Mercedes-Benz Marathon Weekend. A relay team has five members, with each person running a different distance to make up the entire 26.2 miles of a marathon. The relay begins at the same time as the marathon and half-marathon on Sunday morning. All relay participants receive the same race memorabilia as half-marathon participants, including a shirt and a finisher’s medal. ASB’s runners are Nicholas Rollins, a freshman from Birmingham; Elisha Lynn, a junior from Dothan; Garrett Dodson, a sophomore from Pelham; Alyssa Loggins, a sophomore from Montgomery; and team captain Daniel Tailfeathers, an eighth grader from Dothan. Miracle Driscol from Tallassee is the alternate for the team.
Haynes will run the entire distance, 26.2 miles, with the ASB runners, and Burrage will run half, which is 13.1 miles. There are five volunteers (Eric Burrage, Landon Burrage, Carla Haynes, Anna McCollum and Allison Miles) who will help the runners on race day.
Rollins will begin the journey for ASB, starting with 7,700 other runners, according to Burrage. He will run the first 6.05 miles. Rollins, who has been running for about two years, said he wants to “be able to finish in the top few of my part and be able to keep going the whole way.”
Lynn will begin her part of the relay after getting the timing chip from Rollins. She will run 2.95 miles.
“I’ve really been running since I was little because running clears my mind,” Lynn said. “Running is just natural to me.”
The junior, who also plays goalball and is a cheerleader, said her goal is to run the allotted miles without stopping to walk.
Dodson is the third runner for ASB. He’ll be running 6.05 miles for the third leg of the relay.
“I’ve been running since I was a little kid, about 4 or 5 years old,” he said.
The event is a special one for Dodson, because his father is participating on another relay team. He and his dad have been training for the event since December.
“I’ve been running with my dad,” Dodson said. “We’re going to do it together.”
Loggins will run 3.05 miles for the fourth leg of the relay. The sophomore, who is a cheerleader and also participates in field events on the track team, said she started running in the sixth grade.
“I’ve always wanted to do something like a marathon, but I knew I do a whole one,” she said.
She said training is going “really good.”
“I want to be able to run without stopping,” Loggins said. “I’m getting better at that. It’s not really important to me that complete it on time, but I want to be able to do it without stopping. That’s my goal.”
Tailfeathers, the team captain, will run the final 8.05 miles for the team, and cross the finish line with his coach. The eighth grader is in his first year at ASB. Haynes said he knew Tailfeathers would be the one to finish the race for the team.
“I knew that he should be the team captain and that he should be the one that crosses the finish line,” Haynes said. “I had that pictured in my mind the whole time.”
Tailfeathers just started running this year and said he started training for the event at the end of October. The young runner said his goal is to not only finish it himself, but “to help Coach (Haynes) finish it.”
Haynes agreed that the students were a big motivational factor for him.
“It kind of inspires me,” he said. “It helps motivate me to know that they’re counting on me. But really, I’m really counting on them to keep me motivated. I told Daniel that everybody thinks I’m helping them do it, but it’s really them helping me finish.”
Burrage and Haynes said the first four runners in the relay could navigate the course without holding onto a guide. Even so, a guide will be with each runner to help them navigate the course.
“We’re staying right there by them,” Haynes said. “We’re still guiding them and talking to them and making sure they don’t hit potholes and turn the wrong way. They just won’t be holding on to us.”
Tailfeathers, the final runner, will have to be connected to Haynes the entire final leg of the relay.
“Daniel, he’ll be connected to me, holding my elbow for eight miles,” Haynes said. “I don’t think he’s done any kind of organized sports or anything. He wanted to run track, but he said his last high school wouldn’t let him. I don’t see any reason why he can’t.”
Burrage added, “I think he’s (Tailfeathers) the most excited.”
Burrage and Haynes, who both coach the track teams at the school and are avid runners, said there is some added pressure when it comes to training others for an event.
“I think it’s harder for me to train them because, like Daniel said, I run a certain pace,” Burrage said. “Sometimes I feel like running fast and sometimes I don’t, but we have that pace and we zone out. But you have to think about it, it’s not about me. That’s what I’m thinking Sunday; it’s not about me. It’s about these kids finishing it. It’s about them getting their medal and them finishing.”
Haynes said, “There’s a little bit of extra pressure, but it feels like a good pressure for me.”
While they don’t have a specific goal time in mind, Haynes said he would like to finish in less than 6 hours. Despite both Haynes and Burrage running the full marathon and the half-marathon, respectively, the coaches are more focused on the ASB runners finishing the relay and feeling a sense of accomplishment.
“We’re just trying to show them what they can do, what is possible, what they’re capable of,” Haynes said. “We want to show them they do have that support, people do care about them and are willing to go the extra mile for them.
“We’re trying to teach them to break down those barriers and jump over those hurdles. When they hold that medal in their hand, they can have that for life. Nobody can take that away from them. A lot of people dream about doing it and never do it. We’re showing the kids that they can do it.”
In addition to accomplishing the task for themselves, Burrage said she hopes the runners realize they can accomplish many things in life, and prove to other people that a visual impairment does not stop a person from accomplishing great things.
“I think the greatest accomplishment for any of them is that they’re going to finish and that they did it,” Burrage said. “When they do it, they’re going to realize they can do a lot more things in life. It’s not just about running. It’s pushing yourself and realizing that just because I’m visually impaired doesn’t mean I can’t do this. You’ve got to show people, yes, I can do this.”
Contact Heather Baggett at firstname.lastname@example.org