Running for the dogs: One guide dog owner and her mum’s journey to the races
Guide dog owner Samantha Leftwich and her mum Linda, both from Essex, turned an unfortunate situation into a positive bonding experience this October, running their own half marathon to raise money for Guide Dogs.
Samantha and her mum had initially signed up for the Royal Parks Half Marathon, but due to train cancellations on the morning they weren’t able to make it in for the race. Not wanting to waste their training and preparation, they decided to put together a route and do their own 23 kilometre half-marathon around Southend-on-Sea together instead.
It hasn’t been an easy journey to the races for Samantha. When she was 24 a routine eye examination at her diabetic eye screening showed some changes, and after a haemorrhage in her eye she was diagnosed with Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy. She underwent many tests and treatments over the next two years, however ultimately, she lost most of her vision.
“I felt like the rug was ripped out from underneath me, the ground swallowed me up. It had a big impact on my family because we weren’t expecting it, I always knew there was a chance my vision could be affected by my diabetes, but it seemed a long way off.”
Exercise had always been an important outlet for Samantha and her family, and with this change she felt like her days of running were over. However, a few years into her journey with sight loss, she read an article about a woman who was running with a guide runner, and that inspired her to search for more information.
“I came across a young lady who was visually impaired who was running a marathon and I thought how is she doing that? I thought it was only for Paralympians.”
Samantha and Linda started running together for exercise, with Linda seeking out more resources about how to be a guide runner. In 2018, Samantha ran the London Marathon with her brother, Alan, but it wasn’t until last year that her and her mum decided to try a half marathon together.
The pair completed their run in October, with Samantha’s husband Matthew, stepdad Dusty and guide dog Lizzie cheering them on at different points throughout. About the change of plans, Samantha said:
“It was disappointing to not be able to run with the other participants and the supporters cheering, but we adapted and instead ran our own half marathon in sunny Southend on Sea.
“There were hills, curbs, traffic lights, roadworks and lots of families enjoying the seafront to weave through, so guiding wasn’t the easiest, but we had an incredible time running and supporting each other together.
“I think as a guide dog owner we have to be adaptable to changes in our environments and spaces we access, and I really think this helped us to find a different way of completing our goal to run a half marathon together.”
At the end of the day, Samantha attributes a big part of her jumping back into running to the confidence and independence that Lizzie gives her on a daily basis.
“When I decided to get back into running it was after I got my guide dog Liz. Lizzie coming into my life massively changed it. The confidence and independence that she gives me is second to none.”
To find out more about participating in an event for Guide Dogs call 0800 781 1444 or visit https://www.guidedogs.org.uk/how-you-can-help/fundraise/challenge-events/.
Laura Whittaker is hoping to complete an Ironman for a big birthday coming up, having taken up running and cycling after getting her first guide dog.