Gold for the Guide

“If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.” Admiral William H. McRaven

The 2020 Paralympics came to an end this past weekend, and with them, the curtain fell on the drama associated with the 2020 Olympics postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic. The Paralympics have become a favorite event in their own right, with inspiring stories equal to those associated with the longer-running, traditional event.

Here’s an example: Liu Cuiqing of China broke the Paralympic record in the women’s 400-meter race to win a gold medal in Tokyo. She has previously won gold medals in this event in world championships and various medals over the years in races of different lengths: 100-meter, 200-meter, and 400-meter.

Of course, a Paralympian is competing with some form of extra physical challenge. In Liu Cuiqing’s case, the challenge is that she is blind. She competes in what is labeled T11 events, specifically for blind athletes.

I’m a runner, though not competitively. If you’re like me, it’s impossible to imagine running without sight and having to run fast. Running competitively, with all possible speed, without being able to see the track you are on, the space ahead of you, your competitors, or the finish line for which you are heading. Courageous is the word that I would choose to describe such a feat.

Competing in T11 events is made possible by a guide. Liu Cuiqing’s guide is Xu Donglin. As they run, he is connected to her by a four-inch rope cuffed to her hand and his. He is, she says, literally her eyes. They’ve run together since 2013. You can get a peek at them here.

In the last Paralympics, Xu Donglin was injured, and he has run with the injury ever since. “I have only one objective, to guide her to the finish line even if I end up with a lame foot,” he says. He is also trying to get her to the finish line first, whether for a world championship, a Paralympic gold medal, or a new record time, which is only about 15% slower than the Olympic record.

Running in such a partnership takes a lot of training, so Xu is there for that. He makes sure they are matching their stride and arm movements. Xu also spots her during weight training. He helps her run alone by clapping down the length of a track so she can run toward the sound of his hands. When race time arrives, he positions her feet in the starting blocks, ensures her hands are behind the starting line so she won’t be penalized, and confirms their short rope securely connects them. Then he gets himself set for the race. Importantly, he makes sure that she crosses the finish line before he does.

Only recently has it been decided that guides will receive medals too.

We are inspired by heroes, by the courage of someone like Liu Cuiqing, who runs competitively in a completely dark world. She says that if she could have three days of light, she would first like to see her guide’s face.

We are all heroes on our own journey. But are we recognizing and awarding gold to our guides?

This week, our podcast guest is Astrid Tuminez, president of Utah Valley University, the largest university in Utah. Born into terrible poverty in the Philippines, she is the hero of her story, but one who gives credit to those who have lent a helping hand. Now, she is a guide, helping others to be the hero of their story.

As always, thanks for being here!

My best,

P.S. Thank you to Etta King, president of our local Relief Society, for sharing Liu Cuiqing and Xu Donglin’s story with me.

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