From the Glastonbury Citizen: May 10, 2019
(article with photo archived below)
Susanne Cesana is more than just “visually impaired.” She is, she says bluntly, “Blind.”
But that’s not stopping the 65-year-old Glastonbury resident from taking part in this Saturday’s Bill Landers Building Bridges Memorial 5K Run/Walk.
With the help of a volunteer athlete from Achilles International’s Connecticut Chapter, Cesana will participate in the annual event that starts at Hubbard Green and winds through the Buttonball area.
As if that’s not enough, after she takes part in the Landers 5K this weekend, Cesana is slated to run in the Brooklyn Half, the largest half-marathon in the country, on May 18.
The mission of Achilles International is “to enable people with all types of physical and developmental disabilities and medical conditions to participate in mainstream running events in order to promote personal achievement and lower barriers to living and active and fulfilling life,” according to its website.
Achilles provides disabled individuals with able-bodied volunteers who help them compete in races. In Cesana’s case, she runs side-by-side with a guide, connected by a tether.
Since she discovered Achilles two years ago, Cesana has taken part in about 15 races, including the 2017 and 2018 Landers 5K, as well as two half-marathons, with the help of guides.
“Somebody told me about Achilles and I wasn’t aware of them,” recalled Cesana. But they paired me with a guide, we trained for three weeks and ran the race and it was the most exhilarating thing just to be part of the community and to be out there running – and I didn’t even know it was an option.”
Cesana’s first race with Achilles’ help was the 2017 Landers 5K. “I love the Landers family and it was my inspiration; I really wanted to run it,” said Cesana.
Being involved with Achilles “has opened up a whole new world of friendships and participation that I was not previously able to be a part of,” said Cesana.
As she runs with a guides from Achilles, Cesana follows their instructions.
“We hold a tether in between our hand and my guide gives me verbal instructions as well as keeps me going in a direction, which I couldn’t do on my own,” she said. “And when the pavement is rough or we are making a turn, my guide gives me verbal instructions as to what’s coming up and what we are doing.”
Cesana doesn’t always work with the same Achilles but the group does its best to work with her as she trains for races. “Achilles will send a guide to train absolutely as often as people are able to match their schedules,” said Cesana.
She has had a positive experience with everyone she has worked with from Achilles, which she called a “great organization.”
“The people in Achilles are honestly some of the most bighearted and caring people I have ever met,” said Cesana.
“They are all athletes themselves and they give of their own personal time, when they could be out running their own race, to help people with disabilities participate,” she added.
“It’s just a very caring relationship and I have made some truly best friends since being a part of Achilles. And you’re running side-by-side so you chat the whole time you are running.”
Cesana began going blind at age 11 and became legally blind when she was in her 20s. Her vision loss is due to a condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa, which is a rare, inherited degenerative eye disease that causes severe vision impairment.
While she wasn’t an avid runner prior to discovering Achilles, Cesana enjoyed staying active by walking her dog and going to the gym.
She wants other people who may benefit from Achilles’ services to be aware of the opportunities the group provides.
“There may be people in our community who would love to get out but feel shut off from participation because they don’t realize a guide would come and walk with them or run with them and I just think that’s a wonderful option for people to know about,” she explained.
Cesana won’t be the onlk person running with an Achilles volunteer this weekend. In fact, Achilles has said that 21 athletes (some visually impaired, others ambulatory or in racing wheelchairs) had expressed interest in the Landers 5K with the help of the organization.
A 45-year resident of Glastonbury, Cesana has been married to her husband Bill for 40 years. The couple has two daughters who grew up in Glastonbury and graduated from GHS; Taia, a member of the Class of 1999, and Traci, who graduated in 2003. Cesana also has three grandchildren.
Cesana is a holistic lifestyle coach and her business is called Empowered Lifestyle LLC. “I am a holistic lifestyle coach because I have a passion and belief in keeping our vitality and living a rich, full life and not disintegrating into inactivity and couch potato-ness,” she said.
Registration for the Landers 5K – which is hosted by the Glastonbury Education Foundation (GEF) – is still open. The race takes place this Saturday, May 11, at 8:30 a.m.
The race was founded in memory of Bill Landers, who was a board member of GEF, an avid runner, a Glastonbury High School graduate, Hartwell youth soccer coach and a “beloved community member,” according to organizers.
In addition, money from the 5K funds community grants from GEF “that promote excellence, innovation and creativity in education for students and the community,” according to the education foundation.