United States Association of Blind Athletes

This month we heard from Director of Development and Paralympian Pam McGonigle on the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA). We talked about the USABA program, various sports and recreational activities, and how to get started on your fitness goals, no matter your fitness level.

September 19, 2019

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Audio Transcript


Get Up and Go - USABA

Presented by Elyse Heinrich and Steve Kelley

September 19, 2019

Elyse H: Welcome everyone to this Hadley discussion group called Get Up and Go. My name's Elyse and I'll be co-hosting today with Steve.

This month's conversation starter that we had posted on the Hadley site is about the United States Association of Blind Athletes, or USABA. This program serves thousands of people who are blind and visually impaired for all ages and abilities and competition level. That was going to be, that's our jumping off point and we're so happy to talk about this group, that their mission statement is for empowering those who are blind and visually impaired, to experience life changing opportunities, that fits really well with what Hadley's mission statement is, to create these learning opportunities, so we're happy to connect people together. I believe we're fortunate enough to have a wonderful person joining us, a USABA member and staff and former athlete with us on the call who can also speak to some of her personal experiences with USABA.

Steve K: And a couple of Olympic medals to boot, I think.

Elyse H: Yes. I was going to see if she wants to talk about that and perhaps get us started off in just sharing a little bit more about this organization.

Pam McGonigle: Hey Elyse and Steven, it's great to be here, this is Pam McGonigle.

Steve K: Hi Pam.

Pam McGonigle: I am from USABA. I work for the organization at this point as Director of Development, but I have a long history as an athlete. When I was introduced to blind sports back in the early 90s, I competed as a middle-distance runner on the track. I am a guide dependent middle-distance runner. I retired from Paralympic competition after the 2004 Games. I'm also very committed and involved in sports at various levels, recreationally, fitness-minded. I work with kids; I coach a local cross-country team of kindergarten through eighth graders. My son is visually impaired, and he was on that team. I'm very fortunate to have experienced, and continue experiencing, sports at a very wide spectrum of opportunity. I'm really excited to see this Get Up and Go session, and excited to answer any questions or offer suggestions for things that people are specifically interested in. USABA has a spectrum of opportunities, from competitive national global programs, where athletes represent the United States at the Paralympic level. All the way to National Fitness Challenge opportunities, that take place across the country, and offer people the opportunity to just get up and go. Literally get up, get active, stretch, run, hike, walk, tandem cycle, golf, pretty much anything, just the whole concept of being active. I'm a guide dog user, and my guide dog is Maida, and she is a running guide dog. I am blessed to have the opportunity to actually run with my guide dog out on the trails.

Elyse H: That was something really interesting to me Pam about running with a guide dog. Can you explain a little bit about how that is different than I guess a regular guide dog would be?

Pam McGonigle: Sure, so Maida comes from Guiding Eyes for the Blind, they have a formal program called the Running Guides Program. Where they train their guide dogs, not only to do typical guide dog work, but also to run and to guide while running. The program serves individuals of all different abilities, from somebody who runs a 10 to 11, 12, 13-minute mile, to individuals who run sub six minutes for a mile. The dogs can go varying distances, the commands are very similar to the commands that you use in your typical day work. But the dog has to implement them at a higher rate of speed obviously.

Also, some of the running guide dogs do extensive hiking, which is a really nice opportunity and ties into that concept of your last session where you were talking about the national parks. The training that you go through is the same as you would go through if you were to receive a guide dog with the addition of... Maida quiet, with the addition of some additional training to learn how to run with the guide at a faster click. Then we use a little bit of a different harness, but the commands are all the same, and it's just at a faster pace.

Steve K: Pam, did you say that the dogs are actually matched to the runners' ability levels? Let's say if you're somebody who's consistently running a six-minute mile and somebody who's running say a 10- or 12-minute mile, you might get matched up with a dog who's a little more capable?

Pam McGonigle: Yes, they would try to do that...

Steve K: How?

Pam McGonigle: It's not a guarantee, and first and foremost a guide dog is your working traditional guiding adaptation.

Steve K: Sure.

Pam McGonigle: They only try to match the dogs who have faster pace with the individuals who can travel faster walking and running. They're dogs, so some days they might not want to run. I don't really have that of Maida, but first and foremost they're a guide, but it's an incredible opportunity. I mean literally I feel like running anytime of the day, I just go out the door and say, "Let's go, Maida," and we go for a run.

There are about 25 teams currently in the waiting list to become a part of the program. It's a great opportunity, and it really offers us an opportunity to be even more independent and have access to running or walking or hiking.

Steve K: Do you have any idea how many of the guide dogs have been partnered with runners at this point? You said there's a waiting list of 25.

Pam McGonigle: Oh I'm sorry, there are 25 dogs matched with-

Steve K: Oh okay, out there.

Pam McGonigle: ... [inaudible] at this point they're active out there running.

Steve K: Wow!

Pam McGonigle: There is a waiting list. Dee is on this call and she also has a running guide dog, her and Lavender do an extensive amount of hiking.

Steve K: Okay, and have you run with your guide dog in competition?

Pam McGonigle: I have, and it's worked really well for us. We've run 5Ks, we've run 10Ks. We've done a little bit of trail, technical trail running, which was a little bit of an adventure for us. We've learned to run on the trail, and we've sort of created our own supplemental system of queues between Maida and myself when to jump over trees and what not. Everybody's different and has a different comfort level, and every dog has a different comfort level. It's exciting to just hear about the different matches where we have people going out and participating in local 5Ks. Whether it's at seven minute per mile pace or it's at 13 minute per mile pace. For me it's just so awesome to see other people being able to get out there and be active and integrate with the community. I was in a race in the Philadelphia, because that's where I'm from, and there were three of us using running guide dogs in the race.

Steve K: Wow!

Pam McGonigle: It's so cool to be like... I know three is not a huge number, but I mean the program's been in existence three years. To have three of us in the same geography and be out there, I think it was no great in creating awareness and just showing that we can be independent. It's also really nice because you can run with groups with the dog, where you really just have that social interaction. Or you can run in groups or you can downhill ski or you can hike, or you can walk in a group with a guide dog too which is really nice.

Steve K: Do you mind if I ask, now you must have run with guides, like human guides before.

Pam McGonigle: Yes.

Steve K: What are some of the biggest differences in running with a guide dog versus a human guide? I mean there must be advantages and disadvantages.

Pam McGonigle: There are, you know it can be really challenging and frustrating at times to find people that are able to be willing and interested in running and serving as a sighted guide.

Steve K: Sure.

Pam McGonigle: Have the opportunity to connect with your dog with a run or a hike or a walk, it's just, it's very empowering and it's very exciting, and it's a nice supplement. It's good to diversify the ways in which you accommodate your vision impairment, and so it's nice to connect with human guides as well as you know how a dog changes, get up and go out whenever. I have kind of a busy schedule, fortunately, I work full time. I coach cross country, and so for me coordinating schedules with guide runners as in humans is really challenging. Having a dog allows me to get up and get out and get active.

Part of the reason I retired from Paralympic competition was because finding guides was really frustrating, and I did a lot of cross training. Sometimes it's just really hard to find that extra energy then to find someone [inaudible] something with you. I think just getting through that and reaching out to the peers that understand those challenges helps because, even for someone like myself who's had a tremendous opportunity in the arena of sport, accommodating and working around my visual impairment has been challenging and will continue to be challenging. It's nice to have different ways to accommodate it. It's also really important for me to have peers that I can reach out to support me on the days when things just are being very difficult, and I can't find those accommodations.

Elyse H: This is incredible, this is Elyse. Backing up just a little bit, how did you get started and how might someone else begin to get started with USABA? Did that segue you into finding a guide dog for running, or was there kind of a parallel track for you?

Pam McGonigle: So coming out of college, I was on a college team to be competitive. I was legally blind at the time but had enough vision to be fairly independent. As my visual acuity decreased, it became more challenging and I had to give up running. That time I was introduced to USABA in the Paralympic movement and learned about the adaptations that exist for the various sports. I learned about goalball and I started playing goalball. I'm 50 and I just three years ago picked up playing goalball, again just for something fun to do. It was really cool to be out there on the floor with others who are blind and visually impaired playing the game. Just being in that community again because goalball has a great community. It's one of the only team sports for the blind and the visually impaired.

And then just through USABA, I started trying different things, that we have two winter ski festivals. I jumped in and tried one of the ski festivals out in Colorado. Now that introduced me to the sport of skiing. And I'm by no means a competitive skier, I just do it for fun, it's great to get out there. Then I was able to come home and find local programming and guide opportunities through skiing.

The running again, I was at a sort of a high level going into the game, but through USABA context, I've been able to meet and find and have some phenomenal relationships with guide runners. The resources that exist today in connecting us with people who are trained and willing and interested in learning to guide is phenomenal. Resources such as the Achilles group, they match you up weekly runs in lots of the major cities across the country where you can go. You don't have to run to be a part of Achilles, you can literally go and match up with someone to go out for a walk. Often times those relationships turn into additional opportunities throughout the week, where you might just need to go out for a walk or a run.

There's a database called United in Stride. United in Stride matches people together, sight impaired people with guides for walking and for running. It's a database, it's online. You go in, you create a profile, tell them what you like to run, where you like to run, the pace you like to run or walk. Then it shows you people in your geographic area that would be a good match for you, and then you reach out through the database. There's never that exchange of personal information, it's all done through a database system, so you don't have to be concerned about the safety aspect of it.

Through my USABA experience, I met so many other individuals who are active, and just have shared ideas and learned from all of them. Most of the different opportunities that exist.

Steve K: Pam, is the United in Stride database something for the average person? I get the sense sometimes a couple of people have expressed an interest in just getting out and getting started walking. Would that be something for them as well, and is it a national database?

Pam McGonigle: It is a national database, yes, and it's a work in progress, so they are continuously recruiting new guides. If it is available for people who run all levels, frankly when I have used it, I have found that the level of guide runner that's listed in the database, is really kind of geared towards just the average individual who might jog or walk. All levels of guides are available.

Steve K: Is this something that's sponsored by the USABA? If you don't mind a follow up question, I'm just kind of curious. What would be the benefits to the average person who wants to get out and maybe do a little bit of walking or maybe some recreational jogging? What would be the advantage for that person to become a member of the USABA?

Pam McGonigle: United in Stride, first question, United In Stride is not a USABA product, but it's operated through the Massachusetts Association for the Blind. It's national in scope and we do a lot of partnership events with them. It's open for anyone who is visually impaired or blind, or anyone who's sighted and wants to be a guide runner can tap into the United in Stride database.

Becoming involved with USABA is as simple as filling out a membership form, submitting it, and then staying tuned into our social media. When you become a member, you receive, every other week you receive an e-newsletter that gives an outline of all the different upcoming activities. Tells you where to go or how to be involved. It also showcases, we just started a member profile section, so we showcase individuals who are members and the different things that they are doing. I mean that can be anything from running a local five, jogging a local 5K to competing in a triathlon, to engaging in one of our National Fitness Challenge events. The National Fitness Challenge runs a nine months cycle, and we'll be getting ready to start up a new cycle in the next couple of months.

You sign up, you receive a wearable Fitbit. The Fitbit gives you the opportunity to monitor your steps. The Center for Disease Control suggests that 10,000 steps a day is a great goal. Some of the individuals that participate in the National Fitness Challenge reached 10,000. Some exceed 10,000 significantly, and others might get to three or 4,000 steps a day. For them that's progress, and that's an accomplishment and that's an appropriate individualized goal. I think it's always important to remember that, to compare yourself against yourself, because at the end that's really what matters. You should participate in anything active for your own enjoyment, and to make progress in your wellbeing and to stay healthy and active.

For me I find that being active gives me more confidence in my daily travel. I don't mean my athletic travel, I mean simply my ability to navigate the world as a visually impaired person.

Steve K: You know the National Fitness, I'm sorry, the National Fitness, is it a competition?

Pam McGonigle: It's not a competition, it's really an individualized fitness program, where you can utilize... There are a couple components of it. There's a virtual component and then there's a site component, where if there's a partner agency in your geography, you could participate in that programming. It also allows for each of us to participate day to day.

It's really nice because it's very individualized. You determine where you are currently, and you set a goal of where you'd like to go to, how would you want to lose X pounds? Do you want to get these many steps? Do you want to try two new activities? Do you want to incorporate stretching five days a week? Pretty much whatever works for you as an individual, whatever you have access to is what you can do. If you wanted to count your steps by being a goalball player, that's what your primary focus could be: goalball. If you wanted to do it by walking, walking could be how you incorporate your steps.

It's very individualized which is the beauty of it, while at the same time it gives you a platform to be engaged and active with other individuals. Utilize social media to communicate, to support each other. We offer incentive opportunities. Everyone who hits 10,000 steps for the day gets put into a pool of people, and we get to receive gift cards or what not.

Steve K: In a way kind of what I'm hearing with the National Fitness Challenge is that, let's say maybe I don't have a walking group near me or something, but I'd like to get a little bit more involved in some regular activity. I could sign up for this and join on an individual level, but then be connected with other people across the country who are part of the National Fitness Challenge, is that kind of how it works?

Pam McGonigle: Correct, and it might be depending on your location that you can do a combination of the virtual aspect, being connected with others through the social media, through Facebook group page. You might have a local blindness organization that also has onsite programming several times a month, whether it be a goalball game, a beep ball game or a walk or a run.

Steve K: I saw that there were about 16 other either states or other agencies throughout the country that do hold these kind of events periodically.

Pam McGonigle: Yes, and we're constantly looking toward other opportunities to expand that programming. To find additional partner agencies and funding to offer more onsite programs.

Steve K: We just had Ricky Enger, one of the learning experts in the assistive technology group, did a discussion group on different devices people can use for tracking fitness. I think one of the devices that was on this I believe it was the July program, it's in our archives, but one of them was the Fitbit. It is actually something that's pretty accessible, and there's information out there on how to use it for various fitness goals. Are you finding that people find the Fitbit pretty easy to use?

Pam McGonigle: I am. It's not perfect in the accessibility department, but Fitbit is very open to working with us to make it more accessible. It is one of the means to capturing fitness statistics that is fairly of average in accessibility for the blind. You also have program individuals within the various programs that can support anyone who needs help with setting up that Fitbit.

Elyse H: That's really neat. I heard you talk about goalball and downhill skiing was it? What kind of training or practice did you have? Or somebody's interested in some of these sports, could they find the USABA?

Pam McGonigle: If someone was interested in skiing, we have the two programs each year. You can attend those programs with having never skied before. They are “learn to ski” programs. You would sign up, you would attend, we would provide you with a guide, they would provide you with the equipment. One is in Breckenridge and the other one is at Killington in Vermont, through Vermont Adaptive Sports. We've partnerships with winter outdoor facilities that have adaptive ski programs. There are also many adaptive ski programs across the country, not many, but there are a handful of adaptive ski programs across the country. Where say you have a local place where you would ski, many of those have adaptive ski programs where you could be matched with guides.

I know Pennsylvania because that's where I'm from, and so we have two ski programs out in the Philadelphia area that are open to the public that happen to have an adaptive ski arm. Two options would be to look locally, and another option would be to join one of those USABA ski programs. To be introduced to the sport of skiing, and then just through conversation and resources and talking to the people at the ski camp, you can hear about different programs that exist.

Goalball, there are lots of local programs across the country. Again, you don't have to know how to play now to become active in this sport of goalball. You can go on our website; you can find out who our partner sport clubs are. If there's one in your area, you can reach out to them, the contact information is there. You can ask them what opportunities they have, and they'll run through the list of what they have, whether it's tandem cycling.

For example, DC has a really nice active group. They have a National Fitness Challenge, they have tandem cycling, they do some indoor climbing. Also, even like local clubs, like for example we found our local indoor climbing facility has an adaptive program. Once a month, if you have a disability, you can show up at the gym, the indoor rock-climbing gym for three hours, excuse me. They'll fit you with equipment, they'll provide you with a sighted guide, they'll teach you how to climb. At the end of the night there's pizza, then you can come back next month if you like it. Then a couple times a year they actually do some outdoor rock climbing.

We stumbled upon that as a family, because my son went to the gym. and then someone at the gym told us about the program. Then he started going to the adaptive program. Then he also, as a result of going to the adaptive program, has been able to integrate into the non-adaptive program at the gym.

Elyse H: Wow, so regionally there's different training events throughout the year. Then locally you may have better lack to have more scheduled practices or groups that would meet during the season to plug in with?

Pam McGonigle: Yes. I have found that it's really nice to take advantage of all the different opportunities that exist. By doing so, you're more likely able to be active and participate on an extended level throughout, you know consistently throughout the year.

Elyse H: Yeah.

Pam McGonigle: The USABA program works for me and not just because I work there, but first and foremost because as an athlete before I worked there, they provided me an opportunity where I was able to make friends that have become lifelong friends. The number of resources that exists amongst all of the athletes just communicating and through that sort of USABA family is significant. You can always find someone to give you ideas, to lift your spirits when things have been tough, because it's not easy as an athlete, as a legally blind Paralympic athlete. It's not easy even for those of us who have been at the top of the podium. It's challenging and it's really easy to fall off, and it's really easy to get discouraged. It's so critically important more so than I think the non-disabled athlete is to have that support system in place.

Then the people that I've met through USABA and the resources that I've been able to learn about through the organization, has carried me through times where it has been harder to stay motivated and focused because things just weren't going well. Why? I couldn't see how to do things differently. There are lots of different advantages to being involved in the organization, being active, having social opportunities with people who understand your day to day challenges. Being inspired by others within the organization that have done great things.

By great things I don't mean being the best in the world at any given sport. I mean overcoming a fear and getting out there and getting on the climbing wall. Getting on water skis, getting on the ski slope, going cross country's Nordic skiing. Whatever it might be, because at different times no matter how skilled of an athlete you are, you're looking for that place to find that inspiration and that support to get back up on your feet. To get out there and to keep pushing through and finding that program that will work for you.

Steve K: I think the local sports education camp in Maine, which is now called MOBALE, Maine Organization for Blind Athletes and Leadership Education. They used USABA sponsorship so that, I think the kids were able to go to the camp free or 25 bucks or something like that. They signed up for basically a three-day membership is the way it worked, and prior to that I think the New England Blind Athletic Association did a similar sort of thing.

It was great because it gave the kids that opportunity, it gave them a little bit of membership, and any of the volunteers I think were able to access some of the resources on the USABA website for how best to work with young athletes, how best to work with someone who is blind and that sort of thing. There were an awful lot of resources that came with that short membership.

Pam McGonigle: On October 5th, we have what we call National Blind Sports Day. It's where we try to find as many partner agencies across the country that will host the event to one, raise awareness on the abilities and capabilities and interests of the blind and visually impaired population to the community as well as to provide opportunities for individuals who are blind to get out there and try new sports. For example, in Philadelphia, there are four events that day. It's [inaudible], I mean there's a running group that's getting together, where guides will be provided. There's a three-day weekend being provided where they're doing a multitude of different sports opportunities for all age levels. There is a golf program going on and there is a wellness, an additional wellness weekend just for kids who are visually impaired or blind. If you're interested in that event, if you go on usaba.org, you will see a listing of events.

If you do go on the website and look at the list, the list of the events is growing daily, because people are just starting to give us the information on the events now. There are some really great events in Texas. There is a hockey event, a blind hockey event, which is a relatively new sport. We're currently searching for totally blind individuals who might be interested in 5-a-side soccer, which is soccer for the blind and visually impaired. That's a growing sport in the US. It's big in Europe, but we're also trying to grow some local teams. That's an opportunity. There are so many different resources and opportunities. You just have to persevere and find what works for you.

Elyse H: For sure, so this might be an elephant in the room question. With all these resources and people and equipment and time, how much is it to join and compete? Or would families need to pay their way through that or there are some sponsorships available or scholarships or anything?

Pam McGonigle: So there's not just one answer to your question. Membership is $50 a year, and for National Blind Sports Day, one day events or some of the three-day events, there are small amounts of money depending on the event that you can pay to attend them, Steven mentioned the one in Maine. There are opportunities around that. To participate in like the National Fitness Challenge, there might be a fee, a sliding fee depending on the situation from anywhere from $5 to I think the high one might be $25 for the year at this point.

The Fitbit is part of that program, so that's not something that you have to pay for. If you play goalball at a local level, if you find a local club, you do need to be USABA member. Sometimes the local teams and I hesitate to say teams because teams sometimes implies competitive level. It's not, I just mean teams as in groups of people who come together to play goalball. Sometimes those local groups have fundraising events so that everyone, if you aren't in a position to pay for the membership, they'll pay the membership for you.

The ski camps sometimes there are scholarships for events, sometimes there are traditional fees. You have to get there, so it's really all over the place. It really depends on the specific event that you're targeting. What I can tell you, a good resource to tap into as a blind person seeking to do something active in the sport arena, if you're not in a position to cover the expense, often times if you contact local Lions clubs or Rotary clubs they are pretty good about providing support for that, for some recreational activities.

Elyse H: That's a great idea.

Pam McGonigle: Yeah.

Elyse H: Talk to your local groups that you're interested and see what they can do to help support your, well the membership fees but then also support you in the sport, in getting started.

Elyse H: Louise I see your hand is up, go ahead.

Barry: Yeah, this is Barry, Louise's husband, Louise is here also. We are a part of the intandembike.org organization here in New York City. We ride with them in Central Park and they do other rides. There's a group who just did 100 miler a couple of weeks ago. Us personally, we've done two of the five boroughs, Tour de Bronx, towards Staten Island. We've done two Gran Fondos in New Jersey. It's open to captains and stockers. We're members in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. Louise anything you want to add?

Louise: Oh we also like to cross country ski, and we live in Westchester, and we are always looking for guides to help us cross country ski. Maybe some of this I could maybe write to some of these organizations that you mentioned. Maybe I could see if we can get some assistance for us.

Steve K: Do you get a fair number of guides for the In Tandem program? I did see your website over the summer, and it looks like it's very active and there are a lot of rides.

Louise: Yeah.

Barry: Yes, there are. Yeah, and we get a lot of captains through New York Cares, which is a really good organization. A lot of people volunteer for a lot of different things there. It's also by word of mouth also. We also like to go hiking when we can, and we have hiking trails right near our house here in Westchester, New York.

Louise: Maybe the Achilles… We know the Achilles in Central Park, where we also have the In Tandem, maybe we should talk to some of the people there. Maybe we can get guides for us to hike here in Westchester.

Pam McGonigle: That's a great idea. You also might want to reach out to some of the local hiking clubs and see if they would be willing to guide. I actually do a fair amount of trail running up in that Westchester area. The running community up there has been phenomenal.

Louise: Okay, we'll check it out, yeah.

Pam McGonigle: There is, I might say this wrong, but I think there is an indoor climbing gym, indoor climbing gym with an adaptive program in both [inaudible] and peak scale. Those folks tend to be hiking oriented, so if you reached out to some of those indoor climbing clubs in that Westchester of your New York area, you might be able to find some hiking guides.

Louise: Okay.

Barry: Yeah, there's also a program, I don't know if it's connected with the intandembike.org, but they use a gym in Brooklyn in New York to that too.

Pam McGonigle: Yes. Yes.

Elyse H: Oh that's nice, so I'm hearing a little bit of overlap between rock climbers and hikers, they tend to stick together?

Pam McGonigle: Yes.

Elyse H: That's awesome. That's great. Anybody else wanted to come in with a comment or chime in? Feel free. Let's see. Dee your hand is up, I'll go ahead and unmute you.

Dee: Hi there, this is Dee. I'm very familiar with, and friends with, Pam and we talk a lot. It's great.

The question you had asked earlier, Elyse or Steve, about what levels of guides would connect with people, blind people who want to run through United in Stride. I know I myself have tapped into that network to find hiking partners. When I was out of town to find someone to go for a walk with between meetings. People when they put their profiles on United in Stride, there is a section there where they can list their other interests. They might list that they're interested in hiking. They may not, but you can always contact them through the database, leave them a message, it goes all through the computer. Like Pam said, they don't have your phone number. They have a geographical location of where you live, but it's very spaced and you can just leave a message through the computer. Say, "Hey, I'm looking for someone to hike with in the Westchester area. I'm available and would like to hike maybe Saturday mornings," or whatever you're interested in doing. They may reach out to you and say, "Hey, I'm free on Saturday mornings too, I'd love to catch up and go hiking with you and see what we can do."

That's a resource not only for running. They're trying to expand it. Pam said it's ever evolving, trying to expand it to not only be thought of as for elite runners or runners, run, run, run. They're trying to make it known as something that is available to people that want to walk or hike or just get outside.

Elyse H: Well great information, definitely. Opening it up to all levels and all abilities.

It's motivating to me just thinking out loud like had a workout buddy at one point. Then I think we went our separate ways, but it does, it gets you up and going if you know you're going to have a guide, or you're going to be with a group. For some of accountability to stick with it at this group, meets weekly.

Dee: Well you know and something you just said hit home with me, like you said you had a workout buddy and then it kind of fell apart. I think Pam and I can attest to the fact that, for any blind person that's looking for a partner to be your eyes, to get you out and active, it can be a little discouraging. A lot of times people are really enthusiastic in the beginning, wanting to walk with this blind person or run with them as a run guide. They don't really always understand what that entails. We as limited sight or blind individuals don't always have transportation to get to the place to do the activity. Your guide takes on that responsibility of getting you there and taking the extra time and energy to help you get to the bathroom, or to do whatever is involved in that. It can get exciting at first that you've actually got somebody, but then when that relationship ends, you've got to pick yourself back up and try to find somebody else. Try to keep a couple people in your back pocket and not only rely on one person.

Once you find somebody, don't think this is it, “Oh I have somebody, he's fantastic.” Keep going and trying to find multiple people, because that's where your success is going to lie, is just continuing to make connections and reach further out. Create other connections and make yourself visible when you are out with the people you're out with, so other people might inspire us to how they can help you and get involved. I'm guilty of not doing it myself, I can talk about it a lot, but it's a hard thing to do. Different personalities don't mesh, and different personalities mesh fantastically. I think it's getting yourself an idea of what it is you want to do.

Like Pam said, figure out what it is you want to do and then reach out. If you can't manage to muster it yourself, reach out and there's always someone there to help you of us that would be willing to reach out and give you pointers and help you connect. Do what we can to get you out and moving.

Steve K: I think that's one of the topics that's kind of come up in just about every one of the discussion groups, is people asking how to get started, how to stay connected, how to find somebody else who might also be blind or visually impaired that wants to do this, how to find guides. I get a sense that there is some discouragement out there, that it's probably a little bit more challenging sometimes to find those folks and keep finding them than you might think.

Elyse H: Yeah, so we have another hand up, let's see, we have time. Wonderful. Charles, you're next in line.

Charles: I have a couple questions. I like to walk, but I don't do a lot of walking. How would you best start out or get back into walking? Would you walk about a mile, start out and then add four times more mileage to it? Or would you start out walking just a short distance like a half mile? And then if you want to start running, what would be a normal time to run? I mean not time of day, but time is for, how long would you run? Or would you run to just give out?

Pam McGonigle: I'm happy to take a stab at answering that question. Without knowing you personally, it's a little bit harder. Not personally, but without knowing your current physical condition. I would suggest doing time rather [inaudible], because I think that that opens the opportunities for you to get out and go to more places and eat. I think if I were not walking currently, I would start walking three or four days a week.

Again, this is, it's hard to be specific without knowing your abilities and your fitness level. Start out with like a 15-minute walk. If you feel good with a 15-minute walk, then do that four days of the week. You can go out seven and a half minutes, turn and come back seven and a half minutes. It doesn't have to be complicated. If you walk 15 minutes and it's too long, then shorten it down to 10 minutes. And if 10 minutes is short enough then maybe up it by five minutes.

Charles: It's sort of like bench pressing or something where you start out with increments of say 10 and like that. So you start out with say a 15-minute walk, and then after so many days you do that for four days. After that, you increase it to a little bit more than, is that what you're saying?

Pam McGonigle: Yes. So the first week maybe you do four days, and the second week do four days [inaudible] 15 minutes and two of the days 20 minutes. So sort of gradually increase the increments and then the following week you could go one day 15 minutes, three days 20 minutes. Again, I'm giving a really generic example, because I don't necessarily know where you are with things right now.

Charles: I'm 70 years old, I weigh 250, I'm six foot two inches tall.

Pam McGonigle: Start small and grow from there. There are lots of things that you could do right in your house. You know I've started this thing where I've started doing lunges, and I literally every time I go to the top of the steps, I do lunges down the hall to get to the bedroom. Then from the bedroom back to the top of the stairs I do lunges. It sounds silly, but if you do little things like that throughout the day, you really can increase your flexibility and your strength. There are bands, these circular bands that you can use to create resistance. There are programs online that you can follow that are very simple and their impact is phenomenal, even for somebody who's fit, the impact of just the band exercises is phenomenal around flexibility and strength. You can incorporate things like that.

Charles: The second question is, your organization is it open to other people other than blind?

Pam McGonigle: Sure.

Charles: For example, paraplegics or other disabilities?

Pam McGonigle: We're not closed to other disabilities, but we definitely focus on providing opportunities to the blind and visually impaired. That being said, if you know someone who's a paraplegic, there are organizations that, some of the organizations I mentioned are multi-disabilities. So the Achilles International group, which I mentioned for running and walking and hiking, they have programs for people who are amputees, paraplegic, quadriplegics, people with cerebral palsy. The Vermont Adaptive Ski Resort up in Vermont again, that's multi-disabled. USABA specifically works on visually impaired. There is, Disabled Sports USA would be an example of an organization similar to USABA that would work with somebody who's in a wheelchair or has an amputation. Then there are crossover with some of the programs.

Charles: When I was young, I'm 70 years old, when I was young like in my early 20s, I used to scuba dive. I enjoyed that and I suppose that will be a possibility of a sport that will be open to people with visual impairments.

Pam McGonigle: Absolutely. I know of a couple university programs that have scuba diving for the disabled that's open to the public. Depending on where you live, there might be a local university who has such programming.

Charles: Well thanks for your time.

Pam McGonigle: Thanks for being on the call.

Steve K: Pam, would you mind, we're getting down to the last couple of minutes. I know that you've got a website. Would you be willing to share some contact information if somebody wanted to get a hold of you after about USABA or competitive sports?

Pam McGonigle: Absolutely, I was going to offer to do that. The USABA website is www.usaba.org. My email address is pmcgonigle@usaba.org. Should I say that again or?

Steve K: Please, yeah.

Pam McGonigle: Yup, so it's pmcgonigle@usaba.org.

Steve K: That's great, and we do have show notes that go with the archive, so we'll make sure that those are in the show notes for anybody who wants or didn't get that, or needs that information written down.

Pam McGonigle: I'm happy to share a phone number as well where I can be reached.

Steve K: Okay, great.

Pam M: It's 610-574-8905.

Steve K: Oh that's terrific.

Pam McGonigle: 610-574-8905. USABA is in Colorado, I work remotely out of Philadelphia, so I'm on Eastern time.

Steve K: Thank you so much for your time today. We both really, really appreciate it.

Pam McGonigle: Again, I would encourage anyone who has questions, don't think your questions too simple or too elementary or [inaudible]. I'm more than happy to take a stab at answering it. And if I can't, I am quite confident that I can find someone who can support whatever you're looking to do and put you in the right direction. I work for USABA, but as an athlete who's visually impaired and blind, and as a person who has a son who is visually impaired, I so value what sport has brought to my life and want to share that and have others experiencing that, experience that same. So I'm more than happy to help you explore the possibilities for each of you individually.

Elyse H: That's so wonderful, and I'm so glad that we've learned so much from you today. All about the USABA and different sports or organizations that people might connect with and try in their own backyard so to speak. I know on behalf of myself and for Steve, we want to say thank you so much for joining us and giving us your expertise and firsthand experience in all of that.

We'll see everyone next time. Thank you so much.