A Weekend of Conquering Obstacles and Inspiring Others

By Grace McGuire

Why not run an obstacle 5K on Saturday, then get up at 4 am the next day to run a 4 mile race in New York City? This was exactly the inspired spirit of some Achilles athletes and their guides last weekend. Achilles participated in both the Gaylord Gauntlet on June 25 and the Achilles Hope and Possibility® race on June 26. Mike Tubiak, Jim McCollum, and Caitlyn Keller all ran both races with their slew of guides. 

Caitlyn (left) and Lori (right) in Central Park

First was the Gaylord Gauntlet on Saturday, produced annually as a fundraiser for the Gaylord Sports Association. This is not the flattest 3 mile track, instead it’s a maze of obstacles similar to a Spartan race. This added an extra element of challenge and adventure for all, but especially for Achilles’ impaired athletes. 

Even though McCollum has leber congenital amaurosis which greatly reduces his vision to some shape and light perception, the main thing he had to say about the race was, “It’s fun, you should try it some time.”

Because of the extra challenge of the obstacles, the guides need to work extra hard to ensure the visually impaired runners know the layout of the upcoming obstacles and the terrain they are racing. Sometimes this even entailed McCollum’s guide Earle Smola to get on his hands and knees in the dirt, so McCollum knew he had a trusted foundation under him as he swung across the monkey bar obstacle. 

“I’m not holding him (McCollum) up, but he knows that I’m on the ground just below him,” Smola said. He has guided McCollum since he joined Achilles in 2020 and was able to be there for both races this weekend.

Camilo (left), Mike (center) and Thomas (right) at H&P

For a Gauntlet veteran like Tubiak who has now done the race 5 times and can visualize the obstacles somewhat from memory, the focus is more on the “fun” aspect of the race. 

“The fun thing about the Gauntlet is you have a chance to paint your face and kind of be fun with it, so I show a little more of my crazier side,” Tubiak said. This was a more difficult thing for his guide Camilo Cardona to fathom, as Cardona only joined Achilles this past April.

“I was honestly a little bit afraid because I hadn’t guided him before, and I was like an obstacle course with a visually impaired person sounds way beyond just a challenge,” Cardona said. “I guess we make the impossible possible.”

This theme of conquering the impossible continued into Saturday as Cardona and all the other participants had to be at the Metro North train station at 4:45 am to catch their ride to New York City for the Hope and Possibility® race. The Gauntlet may have been familiar to many of the athletes and guides, but none of them had done the Hope and Possibility® race before. With almost 9,000 runners there, many Achilles members from other chapters, Sunday’s race was very different from Saturday’s.

Tracy (left), Jim (center) and Earle (right) at the Gauntlet

Keller, who was running both of that weekend’s events for the first time after recovering from a broken back and chronic injury, enjoyed the crowd.

“Just being in a big swarm of like 5000 people makes me happy for some reason,” Keller said. Overall, this weekend only brought back pleasant memories prior to her injury. In fact, she was so committed to running in Sunday’s race, waking up too late did not stop her.

“ I woke up the minute I was supposed to meet my carpool, but I had purchased my ticket, I’d already got my guide and I was really excited to do this. And so I just got in my car and I drove straight to New York City,” Keller said. This entailed an hour and a half of driving and then a 50 minute walk to the starting before the day’s real exercise could begin.

For these Achilles members, though, it is about more than the race itself, sometimes the journey is the best part. Tubiak, Cardona, Keller and Smola all said their favorite part of the weekend was simply spending time with the Achilles community in between both races. 

“You would think the memorable thing would be the race, but I actually think one of the most memorable things actually was my ride to the race,” Tubiak said about the long, early morning commute to Central Park. This, at its core, is why the Achilles members get up at all hours and run any lengths for these races: the sense of community that is there to cheer them on.