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Improving lives by miles

Source: Updated: 2022-10-08
The 'Running in the Dark' charity pairs people with disabilities with volunteer guides to assist them as they exercise. The charity's Beijing branch has over 600 volunteers. WEI XIAOHAO/CHINA DAILY
Charity helping people with disabilities hit the running track
Calling themselves "runners in the dark", a group of visually impaired fitness enthusiasts in Beijing are improving their lives by putting in the hard miles.
They also hope their persistence and determination can encourage more people with disabilities to embrace the transformative power of sports.
Every Thursday and Sunday morning, members of the Beijing branch of "Running in the Dark", a nationwide charity for people with disabilities, gather to train in the capital's Olympic Forest Park.
Accompanied by guides and volunteers, the runners take on various distances in the park, with some even completing full marathons.
Xu Taipeng is a relative newcomer to the group, and over the last three months he has enjoyed the physical and mental benefits of regular running.
"Some of my friends recommended the running group to me, and I feel great about it. As I cannot see, I used to spend a lot of time just doing nothing. Sometimes, it could be depressing and the air at home is not so good," Xu told China Daily.
"So it's great that there are volunteers and guides who like to take us out running in the forest park, which benefits both my body and my mind. Now, I feel that I have lost some weight and become fitter.
"Apart from just running, the volunteers also teach us how to do sports more scientifically. They correct our moves so that we can avoid injuries. But the best part about it is that we make new friends, and I'm definitely going to stick with it."
The Running in the Dark charity was established in 2016, aiming to improve the well-being of people with disabilities, and generally help them get out of the house more by building a social outlet for them.
The Beijing branch of the group was founded in 2019, and it now caters to more than 400 runners, including those with hearing impairments and cerebral palsy.
Over 600 volunteers have signed up to become running guides, fitness coaches or help with logistics.
Among them is Hou Yong, who is known as "Brother Tiger" in the running group. Being a regular marathon runner himself, Hou coaches and guides the group members.
"I started to run marathons in 2015, and later I started to help visually impaired runners in some events. I just thought it would be nice to help others while running," Hou told China Daily.
"Initially, it took a while to get used to as we were bumping into each other and our speeds were different. And honestly speaking, I was quite nervous, as I didn't know what to expect.
"Gradually, I learned from the experienced guides, and now I can offer the runners better assistance.
"Once you truly get to know the runners, you can have great communication with them. And you can be great friends with them."
He Xiaoyun, the leader and founder of the Beijing branch of Running in the Dark, says the guides and volunteers need to adapt to the requirements of each disability.
"We have constant training, not only for the runners with disabilities, but also for the guides and volunteers. For visually impaired and hearing-impaired runners, we need to offer different assistance," He told China Daily.
"Also we need to pay special attention to their psychological needs. We need to let the guides and volunteers know how to appropriately help the runners.
"We are not simply a group for people with disabilities to exercise — more importantly, we are a platform for them to integrate more in society and generally socialize more."
By following scientific training methods, many of the runners can now finish halfmarathons or even full marathons.
"We provide different runners with different advice and plans depending on their level of fitness and whatnot," added group leader He.
"Doing a half-marathon is really not a challenge to many of our runners. But based on each runner's situation, we tailor our running plans for them. Some newcomers can get carried away and try to run too much too soon, but we guide them to exercise scientifically."
Apart from the regular weekly training, the group also organizes special events from time to time. For instance, to celebrate this year's National Fitness Day and pay tribute to the Paralympic spirit, the members of Running in the Dark in Beijing started a running challenge on Aug 7 in order to set themselves new goals.
"Sometimes I joke with them and encourage them to try harder so that they can have a chance to compete in the Paris Paralympics," said He.
"But the encouragement is mutual. As we form closer bonds with our friends with disabilities, we understand what wonderful and wise people they are.
"With their disabilities, they have many difficulties to overcome in their daily lives, and this requires great courage.
"So now, when I face some difficulties in my life, I always think of them. If they can manage to overcome all the challenges, we have no excuse to back down."
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