Kyle Robidoux was ready to run the Boston Marathon this year, with Tina as his guide, until fate intervened in the form of a stress fracture. Any runner would be gutted to have to DNS, and Kyle is no exception. However, he’s well versed in overcoming adversity and tough situations.
When he was eleven, he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative eye disease that can lead to blindness, and he was declared legally blind at nineteen. Today he shares the story of his journey, how he ensures that he isn’t defined by the boundaries that others place on him, and a few beer recommendations.
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“I had high cholesterol, high blood pressure in my early 30s and I knew I needed a lifestyle change.”
In 2010 Kyle found that he got tired playing with his two year old daughter; he got tired bending over to tie his shoelaces, for that matter. He was overweight, his biomarkers were bad, and he knew he had to improve his health. He started walking, then running, gradually increasing the time he ran. He didn’t have a goal in mind, other than trying to run a few minutes longer every week.
“When I hit two hours I said, ‘Wow, when am I ever going to be able to run two hours again? I should sign up for a race.’ And that was when I signed up for my first half marathon.”
One day, his intended 90 minute run extended to an hour and 45 minutes. He felt great, so he kept going, and when he hit two hours, he realized he was ready for a half marathon. Since then, he’s completed over 25 marathons and ultras, including five 100 milers and the grueling six-day, 120 mile Transrockies Run. Getting to that point wasn’t easy, not only in the sense of the physical training, but coming to terms with the progressive loss of his eyesight.
“I felt angry because all these things were being taken away from me, and what I realized at the end was I was giving up on all those things that I loved and I just needed to adapt and change things up a little bit in order to continue doing them.”
When Kyle was diagnosed with RP, doctors said that he would be totally blind by college. He and his parents talked about some aspects of the prognosis, but didn’t address the emotional impact of vision loss. And for a time, they didn’t have to. Kyle was declared legally blind at 19, but it wasn’t until his late twenties, he says, that “it really started taking things away from me that I loved, like skiing independently and playing recreational baseball and pick up leagues for baseball and softball. And I was just becoming really bitter and angry.”
At the urging of his then girlfriend, now his wife, he started seeing a therapist. It was hard for him at first, but ultimately it helped him work through the loss and anger, and gave him tools to cope with his diminishing eyesight. Now he encourages anyone struggling emotionally to at least give therapy a try. As he says, “you don’t have to commit 100%, but if folks go once or twice, I feel like you start to see the benefits really quickly, even if it’s just once a week for an hour. I think there’s tremendous value in that and I certainly feel like if I would have started it earlier, it would have been much more beneficial to my overall well being, and quite possibly my physiological and physical health, in addition to my mental health.”
“And then I asked, I’m like, ‘Well, you know, because I am an idiot and have an ego sometimes, what happens if I do run Boston?”
The coping mechanisms that he’s learned through therapy are helping Kyle now, as he processes not being able to run the Boston Marathon. He’s run it the past eight or nine years, and was ready to continue that streak this year, with Tina as his guide. But shortly before race day he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his foot, and reluctantly accepted that it would be best not to run. He could have done it, albeit painfully, but it would have resulted in having to take up to four months off from running, rather than 3 – 8 weeks. The tradeoff, he concluded, wasn’t worth it.
Since he’s usually running Boston, he’s only spectated there once, so this year, he says, “I’m gearing myself up to get really excited to cheer.” Oh, and also to get together with friends to have a few beers and possibly fill squirt guns with Fireball to shoot at people as they walk by. Basically, he says, “I’m hoping to truly embrace the spectator side of what is so special about the Boston marathon.”
“I would just say that anyone and everyone can be a guide.”
Kyle runs accompanied by a guide. Guides are needed for runners of all abilities, and there’s training and support available for anyone who would like to be one. United in Stride can help you locate runners who are visually impaired in your community and connect with them. Achilles International has a list of their chapters around the country. Kyle strongly believes that “with a little bit of training and support and strong communication everyone can be a sighted guide.”
“I tell folks also that part of being a sighted guide, it’s great because you’re volunteering while doing something you’d already be doing if you’re an active runner, right?”
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“Thank you” to Kyle. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.