Blind runner defeats the odds

Rachel Hastings and Mike Fuith, her service guide runner for two marathons, running at the Twins Cities Marathon (Photo courtesy of Rachel Hastings)

By Camila Beiner
BU News Service

BOSTON — Like every other runner in the Boston Marathon, Rachel Hastings experiences many challenges on the road to running in the marathon, but she also faces one that many other runners don’t: Hastings was born legally blind.

This did not stop her from taking second place in the women’s visually impaired division at the age of 26 in last year’s Boston Marathon.

Hastings qualified for last year’s Boston Marathon in her first marathon ever in her home state of Minnesota. Although she was nervous about the unfavorable weather conditions during the race, she said she felt a “grace from God” that got her through the last five miles. It was very difficult, she said, but she ended up taking 10 minutes off her first marathon time.

Hastings first began running at 14 years old. She said she was disappointed because she was not able to participate in the team sports that her friends were a part of. She said she wanted to be fit and athletic just like everyone else.

Her mother motivated her to start running. In the beginning, Hastings said she hated every part of running. She complained every time she went out to run. Her mother once told her: “If you are going to commit to something, you need to keep doing it.” As Hastings continued to run, she said realized she loved running.

“[My mother and I] ran our first half marathon together,” Hastings said. “My mom was my first guide, so she is my hero.”

Rachel Hastings’ face of joy when she qualified for the 2018 Boston Marathon at the Twin Cities Marathon. (Photo courtesy of Rachel Hastings)

Hastings, who said she likes to inspire people, also said she had to learn how to do things that make her afraid.

“I think that if you play it safe, you’re not going to live a very fulfilling life, especially as someone who’s blind because then your world gets really small,” Hastings said, “you have to work a little harder as someone who is blind to make your world big.”

Last year, Hasting’s was contacted by the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI) to run with Team With a Vision in the Boston Marathon. Team With a Vision is a program within MABVI that connects blind and sighted runners to support individuals throughout Massachusetts living with vision loss.

Hastings said she was impressed by the organization’s accomplishments and what it stood for. Now, every time she runs in Boston, she said she wants to represent Team With a Vision. This year, she decided to start fundraising to support the organization.  

“As someone who’s legally blind, it’s like dear to my heart to kind of squash the societal icons that people make of blind people,” Hastings said. “And I think that fundraising makes me feel more fulfilled in accomplishing that.”

David Brown, chief advancement officer at MABVI and community services, said Hastings and other members of the blind and visually impaired division are not different than other runners in the marathon.

“They want to be able to run the race, and have the same access and the same barriers removed, that make it impossible for them to do the race,” Brown said. “So, the barrier of blindness is the barrier, but it’s barriers that we as a side of a community put into place.”

Rachel Hastings finishing the 2018 Boston Marathon with one of the volunteers from Team With a Vision, Erin Lawry (Photo courtesy of Rachel Hastings)

Brown said Hastings has a contagious effervescence — an ability to connect people who may not think the same way.

Tom Lindsay, Hastings’ service guide for the marathon, said he met Hastings a year and a half ago through the Achilles International chapter in Minneapolis. One of the main things he said strikes him is that many people assume Hastings is a slow runner because of her disability.

“Rachel is a strong fast runner, she’s determined and she knows what she’s doing,” Lindsay said. “And you know, ultimately my job is only to be her eyes.”

Amid Minnesota winter storms, Hastings trained outdoors in 20 mile-per-hour wind and somtimes contracted frostbite. Other times, she had no choice but to run 26 miles on a treadmill for race prep. It is this training that she said allows her to stay mentally strong during races.

“One of my biggest things is taking [the marathon] in chunks; you can’t think about how far you have to go,” Hastings said. “You just have to take it mile by mile. It’s like you have to do it. You can’t just not run no matter how cold it is.”

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