Sinead Kane interview
Sinead Kane interview
Sinead Kane is redefining what it means to “Believe in yourself”. Here she talks about running, disability, extreme challenges…
Sinead, can you share with us why and how you got into running?
Four years ago I was asked to do a 10k run for charity. I didn’t even know how far 10k was in distance but automatically said yes because it was for blind kids. That was when I had just turned 30years of age and since then I have completed a few marathons, a 50km run, changed the policy in relation to disability and running in the biggest female only running event in the world. Ran the Wings for Life World run in Brazil and came 23rd female out of 1413 females. Last July (2015) I broke the 12 hour track record. I came 2nd female and ran a distance of 109.97km. In November 2015 I competed in the Volcano Marathon in the Atacama Desert in Chile – the driest desert in the world.
Goodness me! And where do you most love to run and why?
My favourite place is the track because it’s safe and I feel freedom to run by myself. I just follow the white lane line. I would never be able to run a trail by myself as it just would be too dangerous. I would love to be able to run trails by myself but it is just not possible. Hopefully the next time your readers are out running a trail and if they are finding it hard then they stop and think for a moment how good it is to be able to have the gift to be able to run a trail. When running with a guide my favourite trails would be those around Glendalough in Co. Wicklow and sections of the Wicklow Way.
I was first introduced to trail running when I took part in the Donadea 50k in Donadea Forest Park, Co.Kildare. This race was also the Irish National Championships and my introduction to Ultra Running.
Following on from Donadea I felt confident to run trails as I didn’t fear the terrain as much and I take the opportunity whenever I can. This new found confidence made the decision to run the Volcano Marathon in the Atacama Desert a bit easier to make.
You were born with the rare congenital eye disease Aniridia. How has this shaped your attitude to life?
Attitude is everything. Your attitude will determine how your day unfolds. I have ‘mindsight over eyesight’. The main reason living with little or no sight is a challenge, is simply because society is made for sighted people. But that is no excuse for not living your life to the fullest. A lot of people in life have full sight but no vision, no determination to push their mental and physical strength. Whether you’re blind from birth, or have lost your sight later in life, you will have days where your lack of sight is going to make you feel down. Everything appears more difficult than on good days and you just feel like shutting yourself off from the world. I don’t have much sight but I know where I am going. I can control my attitude but I can’t control the attitude of others. Sometimes I find other people’s attitude a problem. They assume I lack intelligence and ambition because I am visually impaired. I have went from people under estimating my ability to people now asking what goal are you doing next?
In your Tedx DCU Talk you say self-acceptance is the greatest gift you can give yourself. How did you get to that point?
I found out at 4yrs of age that I was visually impaired when I was always touching my tiny nose against the TV screen to see it. People who would come into our house would think I was kissing the screen.
I learnt from a young age that this was going to be the way that it was going to be for the rest of my life – that I would always have to use my magnifying glass and that I would always have to see things up close and basically to just get on with it. It was made feel like a normal thing to look at things closely. When I went to primary school I didn’t feel normal anymore because I was the only girl in a school of 450 pupils who was looking at things very close. Kids started teasing me and bullying me. From age 7 or so I no longer wanted to be seeing things closely. For many years I tried to change myself because I thought if I changed everything else about myself I would be accepted by others. I strived to change everything about myself but the only thing I couldn’t change was my eyesight that wasn’t in my control. In my late teens and early twenties I was exhausted from constantly trying to be someone else and so at that point my life turned around and I realised I just need to be me and accept my disability. The greatest life lesson I have learnt is I couldn’t control being born blind but I can control how I live my life. I choose to be positive and visionary not blind. For any of your readers interested in my Tedx talk they can check it out on YouTube.
Do you ever doubt yourself?
All the time. It’s easier to be negative then positive. Whilst you need to focus on what you can do, it is equally important to identify what you can’t do, and find ways to go about those things. I have a few trusted friends who help me. I doubt myself when I cant get in as much training as other runners by not being able to get out and train due to my disability example if the guide runner isn’t available on a certain day or if I am not available the day the guide runner available.
Consistent, careful work – day after day, week after week, year after year – is what creates success in running. Hence, when I don’t get consistent work done I doubt my ability. I doubt myself if I don’t get a PB. There will be moments – in your running career and everyday life – when your dreams seem to collapse. If ever running offered a life lesson, this was it, to expect failures along the way but not to get stuck in them, to move on. Turn setbacks into comebacks. There are plenty of reasons to despair. Fatigue, pain, doubt. When you start hearing those voices in a race, my advice is: Don’t pay attention, and don’t ask why. Just keep moving forward. Same thing with life. When it seems ready to bring you to a standstill, don’t stand still, at least not for long.
All your life you have overcome limitations that society has placed on you. How can we change such attitudes?
I think the key strategies which are needed are:
1. Disability Awareness Training whether it be sport, education, employment.
2. Creating opportunities for those with disabilities to participate.
3. Creating visibility of more people with disabilities to be role models.
The real problem of blindness is not the lack of eyesight. The real problem is the misunderstanding and lack of information which exist. If a blind person has proper training and opportunity, blindness is only a physical nuisance. Understanding social constructions of disability and impairment can help to explain why people with disabilities have been marginalised and discriminated against and can draw attention to what needs to be done to eliminate negative attitudes. One my biggest problems is that I don’t look blind enough and when people realise I am, they sometimes can’t see past the disability. I was born with just 5% vision spread across two eyes which means I can just see five to six feet ahead of me but if there was a small object there, I couldn’t see it.
What has running given you?
Running has improved my life and made me happier. I have greater self-belief in myself and I am more confident now. I also have made some very close lifelong friends in running that I can now call as my friends. My mood is elevated after running as I feel good that I have exercise done. Running allows me to set goals and helps me to improve on goal setting. Reaching the goal, of course, is wonderful, but it is the journey towards the goal that leads to the most happiness. When I am training I feel such independence when my guide is able to take off the tether on a long straight road and I’m able to run by myself. I can’t just throw on my runners and go running like most people but, for those few minutes, I feel free.
What could event directors do to encourage more disability participants?
On entry forms give registration options for persons with disabilities to highlight their disability. If a disability has been highlighted an organising member should contact the person with the disability to discuss their needs. This will allow a review by the participant and organisers, to review the course and assess its suitability. It allows the organisers assess the accessibility of facilities available to the disabled person such as car parking, toilets, changing facilities, access to buildings. It is important for race directors to know their definition of disability. It is not only people with physical disabilities that fall within the definition of people who are disabled. Some disabilities are obvious (e.g. in the case of wheelchair users), others are not readily apparent e.g. epilepsy or mental health). The term ‘disability’ can cover a wide range of circumstances including visual impairment, hearing defects, physical disability, specific learning disabilities and mental health difficulties. Participants with a visual impairment will need to be supported by a guide. Guides must be identified in advance and must wear some visible or warning clothing to identify them to other runners. Event organisers need to know if they will permit guide dogs. Diagrams and/or written pre-race information should be available for participants who are hearing-impaired. Participants who use a wheelchair must take responsibility for ensuring that the wheelchair is fit for purpose to participate in the event and for any maintenance required during the event. Participants using a wheelchair who need to be pushed by another person must provide their own assistant.
What key skills does a running guide need to have?
A guide runner is a volunteer who aids the visually impaired in running or jogging. I would suggest the following skills:
It’s always a good idea to talk to the vision impaired runner you wish to guide prior to your first run. The conversation could involve:
* Expectations each of you have
* Pace and distance
* The visually impaired runner talking about their eye condition and how it affects him/her.
* Both the guide and vision impaired runner discussing what verbal cues will be used during the run.
As the eyes of a visually impaired runner, guides are expected to keep vision impaired runners safe and informed at all times. There are different methods to guide vision impaired runners and so communication skills is an essential skill. Some vision impaired runners run with a tether some don’t. It all depends on the amount of vision loss. Verbal cues are always going to be present no matter what type of guiding method is used. The 3-2-1 countdown is universally accepted as the best way to alert VI runners of upcoming obstacles, changes in footing and turns. For example, “Curb down in 3-2-1, down” or “Left turn in 3-2-1, turn”. When you need to run single file, call out “Narrow gap ahead. Get behind me in 3-2-1, now”.
Running can become boring for a vision impaired runner when they cant see what is around them and so on training runs it is good if the guide runner can call out key points and areas of interest such as lakes or describe the scenery or state if passing a toilet. However visually impaired runners aren’t expecting the guide runner to describe everything.
As a guide, you need to be aware of what is ahead of both you and the vision impaired runner at all times. Be conscious of distances, ground width, elevation, obstacles and everything else you see. Call out all potential hazards such as slippery sections, gaps, puddles, potholes, obstacles, dogs, kids, other runners and everything else that you might encounter. Be patient when guiding a vision impaired runner through a course, especially when you’re doing it for the first time. A vision impaired runner may not hear you if too much noise around. Also may get confused with directions. A guide runner needs to be assertive, especially in risky and hazardous situations. It’s normal for a vision impaired runner to inform the guide what he or she is doing wrong and will offer suggestions on how to improve it. Don’t take offense. You have to be open to suggestions and accept criticisms as ways to improve your guiding skills. Also the job of the guide runner is to guide not to be a coach and so you shouldn’t order a vision impaired runner around.
Guide running is not for everyone. There is no point doing it if your sole aim is to get people to praise you for doing it. Remember the run is about the vision impaired runner and so it’s their run rather than making it all about yourself.
Guide running can be very rewarding and can build strong friendships. Guiding a visually impaired runner and being their eyes on a big event can give you a different kind of high, one that you’ll take with you long after you hang up your running shoes.
How would you describe the Atacama Desert-based Volcano Marathon?
The marathon begins near the Tropic of Capricorn adjacent to Lascar Volcano, one of the most active volcanoes in Northern Chile. At a start altitude of 4,475 metres (14,682 feet), the Volcano Marathon is the highest desert marathon in the world. The impact of thinner air is felt by all competitors. There are panoramic views of up to 10 volcanoes which John O’Regan my guide runner tried to describe to me as best he could so that I could take in the beauty of the scenery. During the marathon we stopped a few times and took pictures and then after the marathon John zoomed in on the pictures for me and it was only then that I got to see the beauty of the scenery. The first half of the race took place on dirt roads at an average of over 4,000 metres altitude, with manned aid stations at the 10km and 21.1km points (half- marathon). On reaching the third checkpoint at 30km, athletes ascended to a 2km off road. At 35km there was rough terrain for 5km alongside a gorge. In this section all runners needed to pick their step carefully. The finish line is located at an altitude of 3,603 metres (11,821 ft) where the temperature could be 25C+.
It felt amazing. As a child I was never encouraged to do sport in school. I was always last to be picked for any team. I was always left sitting on the PE bench. No one ever believed in my sporting potential. Hence, to only take up running at age 30yrs of age and to achieve a lot in a short period of time makes me feel proud of myself. For me it is not about getting awards but it is nice to be recognised for my hard work and training.
Who mostly inspires you and why?
Family and friends inspire me to be a better version of myself and to keep setting goals for myself. I don’t look at sporting heroes for inspiration, I look at the ordinary runner who is out there giving it their all day in day out. I look at ordinary people around me who have encountered setbacks and have turned them into comebacks. I am inspired by people at races who have a bad race but have the attitude I will try again and not give up.
Are you planning a book?
It is something that I have thought as it has been suggested to me a few times. Maybe if a publisher was to approach me then I would give it serious consideration.
What’s the best advice anyone has given you?
I have been given a lot of good advice by different people. But one piece of advice which does stand out to me is something which my guide runner John O’Regan said to me – ‘To make the dream work you have to have teamwork.’ I fully believe in this piece of advice because none of us do life by ourselves. We all need help from time to time – disabled or non-disabled.
What does the future hold for you?
To keep saying yes to opportunities that come my way. To keep living life to the full as much as possible. To keep setting goals for myself. I also want to keep doing my motivational speaking. I have spoken for a lot of companies both national and international and I enjoy the interaction and helping them to see that being blind doesn’t mean having no vision. People can learn about my motivational speaking at my website www.sineadkane.ie or follow me on twitter at @KaneSinead.
I couldn’t have achieved half of what I have achieved if it wasn’t for the support of my running guides helping me with training and doing the races with me. Also I am very thankful to Great Outdoors, Ronhill and EVB Sport for their continued belief in my ability.
Sinead, thanks a million for such an honest and enlightening interview. Hopefully we’ll continue to see widening participation in running and all other elements of life.
For more information on being a guide runner please see below: