Williamstown Man to Run Marathon With Blind Athlete
|Boston Marathon bombing victim Mery Daniel participates in a Harvard road race in the fall with help from Achilles International, a nonprofit that includes runners from Williamstown.|
But he cannot wait for his first time on Monday morning.
Cluett will lace up his running shoes in Hopkinton not with dreams of setting a personal record but with a mission to help a fellow athlete achieve her goal.
The Williamstown resident and orthopedic surgeon is following in the footsteps of his mentor, Williams College professor Hank Art, as a volunteer guide with Achilles International. The New York-based nonprofit helps mobility-impaired athletes compete in distance running events.
Cluett will be partnered with Toronto's Maya Jonas, who is blind.
"What's involved for being a guide really varies among the athletes," Cluett said this week. "Depending on the disability, there are different responsibilities for the guide.
"The primary responsibility for the visually impaired guide, as it sounds, is just being their eyes, making sure other runners are aware of them, and just leading them around the course, making sure there aren't any obstacles in their path."
Unlike Cluett, Jonas will be making her second attempt at Boston, although her first try ended through no fault of her own.
"I really want to finish it this year because last year, of course, with the bombing, we couldn't finish," Jonas told the Toronto Star earlier this year.
Although the world's best-known marathon is contested in his "back yard," Cluett, a longtime running enthusiast, never felt any particular compulsion to compete.
"This will be my first Boston," he said. "I qualified this past year, but I've never signed up as an entrant.
"I run because it's my escape. I can go on a trail, I can run in the mountains, I can kind of lose myself in my thoughts. If I'm going to run [competitively], I run small events like the Shires of Vermont, which has 200 or 300 people. There's less of an appeal for me, personally, running a race with 30,000 people.
"This is obviously a special experience."
Cluett got involved with Achilles International through Art, who started guiding Achilles athletes in 2007 and was on the course with his Achilles partner last April when the bombing halted the race.
"Initially, my involvement was building awareness for the Boston chapter of Achilles," Cluett said. "[Art] really got me involved because they were hoping to use the network of physicians to raise awareness in the medical community.
"Achilles is a great organization. It's very well liked and very well done, but often people don't know it exists.
"Once the chapters get going, they tend to be self-sustaining. When you're just starting a chapter, it's a bit of a challenge."
Achilles International decided last spring to resurrect the dormant Boston chapter, in part with an eye toward helping bombing victims get back to — or get into — running.
So far, just one victim, 31-year-old Mery Daniel who lost her left leg in the attack, has run with the Achilles Boston Strong chapter.
"She did a Hope and Possibility race with us last year," Achilles International Chapter Development Director Eleanor Cox said in a telephone interview from her New York office. "She was encouraged to ride a hand cycle and said, 'Why not?'
"She was the only one so far who came out and did a few races with us. She did a September race, the Apple Harvest Rample in Harvard.
"She was a spectator at the  Marathon. She never had any athletic aspirations."
Cox said she understands that it may be too soon for Daniel and other bombing victims to consider training for distance events — let alone a marathon — but Achilles wants to make sure the victims know the organization is there when they are ready.
In the meantime, the Boston chapter is making strides. Its twice-weekly runs on the Charles River have drawn nine athletes with disabilities and dozens of volunteers. Two of the athletes involved with Achilles Boston Strong are brand new to running, Cox said.
Achilles International will have 30 athletes competing in Monday's Boston Marathon, each with at least one guide; one hand cyclist, who propels himself backwards, is allowed a second guide, Cox said.
Cluett said although there would be an advantage to Achilles athletes competing in packs to help increase visibility, that is not always possible.
"It's difficult in a race as big and complex as Boston to try to stay together, especially when the responsibility of the guide is to look out for his or her athlete," he said. "There are some [athletes with disabilities] who qualified with fairly similar times. It's possible a group of them could form. It's going to be interesting. We'll have to see how that all plays out."
Cluett said Achilles tries to match its guides with the athletes based on similar paces, but Jonas' 26.2-mile time is a little slower than he is used to, which is not unusual for guides but can be a challenge.
"My role is not to run the race," he said. "I'm helping her to run her race. ... There is a bit of an art to matching the right guide with the right athlete."
Cluett said he has talked to Jonas on the phone a few times and the pair will have a chance to do a practice run on Saturday in Boston. Although he travels to that part of the commonwealth for Achilles Boston Strong meetings, he has not been able to attend the Tuesday evening and Saturday morning practices.
Monday will be Cluett's first time guiding a visually impaired athlete and his first time in Boston on Patriots Day. Not only has he not competed in the Boston Marathon before this year, he has not even seen the event in person.
He is glad to have the opportunity to make his first time really count.
"You get that sense of accomplishment that everyone gets when you run your first marathon, but after that, you want a new sense of achievement," Cluett said. "Running the race for someone else gives you that sense of achievement."
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