Vision is easy to take for granted — at least that’s true for me. I try to be intentional about recognizing the good in life and giving thanks, but so many things still escape notice. I’m glad I can see, but it was never any deeper than that.
My perspective changed a few years ago when my mom started losing her vision. At first it just seemed she needed different correction, but eventually her sight problems became more pronounced and the severity couldn’t be ignored. She saw multiple experts, and no one could really pinpoint her exact condition. Now she is legally blind with best correction. Her quest for treatment is ongoing, and she is seeing doctors at the Mayo Clinic who are working on a new approach to treatment and how her vision loss might be related to other conditions. Any health challenge is scary, but losing one of your senses is perhaps one of the most life-altering. While my mom can still listen to books and works on developing her other senses, I know that a layer of her independence is gone.
In the early spring of 2014 my mom was in the midst of vision loss and trying to find a diagnosis. I supported her and brought her to appointments when I could, but I felt a desire to do something more. I thought about what that ‘something more’ could be for several months as my mom’s sight continued to worsen. Finally I had an idea.
I was training for a local marathon at the time, and I decided I wanted to dedicate this marathon to my mom. I researched charities that supported sight and vision, and found several options. I told my mom about my plan. She usually worries about the endurance races I do, but I assured her, as I always do, I was training well and safely because I enjoyed it. And that’s true –I enjoy the process and love the freedom and peace running gives me. We talked about the various charities I researched, and together we decided Helen Keller International was the right fit. I originally thought she might be drawn to a non-profit doing research or developing new treatments, but she definitely preferred Helen Keller Intl’s work. Supporting the sight and lives of disadvantaged people across the world is such a powerful mission. For my mom, she knows personally how devastating vision loss can be. It’s doubly devastating if it’s preventable or easily treatable, and she wants as many people to have access to prevention and treatment as possible.
My marathon training had a new purpose, and I contacted Helen Keller to see if they would track donations in honor of my mom. They were quick to help, and my parents, sisters, close friends and family donated to the effort. It was definitely a personal project for us so I didn’t broadcast it widely, but it made a difference and let my mom know how much we care.
I ran the Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon in early May on a beautiful Minnesota spring day. I made a sign to wear about my mom and Helen Keller, and I talked to many runners about it along the way. I know some of those conversations left a lasting impression. The best part of the 26.2 mile journey was seeing my mom, dad, and husband waiting for me at the finish line. I knew my mom couldn’t physically see it was me crossing the finish, but the feelings in that moment were stronger than sight for all of us.