Among the greatest are the selfless.
During the Nov. 5 New York City Marathon, ETSU Department of Computing System Manager and marathon runner Robert Nielsen led Eddie, a 25-year-old visually impaired runner, through the streets of New York to complete Eddie’s first marathon.
“I do a lot of races. I enjoy them,” Nielsen said. “Sometimes I have my own goals in mind, and I want to do something specific for me, but at the same time, I view running as a community, and I like to try and find ways to give back and support others.”
Among the marathon’s sponsors and supporters, Achilles International works with athletes with disabilities to compete in events they may not have the chance to without the aid of Achilles.
Nielsen explained Achilles’ process, which includes an application process to mark down experience in races and experience with AWD. Where Nielsen has the marathon experience, he lacked in working with AWD. Because of this, Nielsen was accepted as an aid and paired with both Eddie and Eddie’s close friend, Zach.
Nielsen said he gained his experience with AWD by watching Zach work with Eddie, since he said Zach knew what Eddie personally needed throughout the race.
Eddie has juvenile macular degeneration, which means Eddie was born with sight, but as he got older, his vision began to dissipate. At 16-years-old, his central vision began to disappear and had spread to the edges of his eyes, so Eddie has only limited sight in his peripheral vision.
To accommodate, Nielsen and Zach ran ahead of Eddie so that he may see their forms as they ran. But Zach had never run a marathon before. Zach fell back as Nielsen and Eddie continued forward.
“Zach knew what Eddie could do and what Eddie couldn’t do…I was able to pick up and understand what I needed to do to make sure those same needs were met,” Nielsen said.
Of the 50,000 runners and approximately 258 AWD who ran the marathon, Eddie clocked his race at 3 hours, 43 minutes, 26 seconds and came in as the 7,981st runner, which falls around the top 15 percent of the runners. Nielsen said that was considered very good numbers as a marathon runner.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Nielsen said.
Nielsen said he would like to aid a runner again in another race Achilles sponsors, possibly a shorter race than a marathon though.
“I liked this because I am a runner, and being able to literally run with him was a thrill, and it was amazing. I can’t really put into words the thrill that it was to get him to that finish line.”