Today’s episode is with Chaz and his girl Tricia @blackkidrunning, a Team USA Track and Field Olympic runner and guide dog team with a need for speed and a desire to help others with visual impairments to adapt. As a Paralympic runner, Chaz has been working with Tricia, who is a specially trained running guide dog, since 2018 to have more freedom in running outside.
When Chaz first started running in high school, he quickly found that he had an ability. In his sophomore year, he had a state champion title in two mile on the track. In college he competed in both track and cross country. Not long after in 2013, he began to notice an issue with his vision. In a very short time, Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON) caused Chaz to be legally blind and changed his entire life. At one point Chaz believed his running career was over. With the help of friends and family, Chaz adapted and even got back to running, relearning on a treadmill and eventually back out onto a track. Perseverance paid off and Chaz qualified and ran in the 2016 Olympics in Rio, competing in the 1500m and 5000m on the track. Later in December 2016, he ran a 2:31:48 marathon in his debut at the California International Marathon along with a guide runner, setting a new American record for the T12/B2 visual impairment division. He also bested the Rio Marathon first place finish by 29 seconds!
While living in Denver, Colorado, Chaz learned about having a guide dog and not long after, he started the process through Guiding Eyes for the Blind @guidingeyes in New York. The first dog he met through the program was a small rambunctious black labrador retriever named Tricia. They immediately clicked and their training took off. Tricia and Chaz quickly progressed from simple street crossings to finding new routes. Chaz believes it’s all due to Tricia’s ability to focus and adapt in very high stress situations. Tricia lives for her work. But she also loves to run. Unlike typical guide dogs, Tricia went through several extra months of training through Guiding Eyes in order to learn to use her skills at a much faster pace. Along with a custom made harness from Ruffwear, Chaz and Tricia are able to run together and still maintain control.
Though Chaz is used to training for long distance endurance running, Tricia is limited to shorter runs, simply due to her importance as a working guide dog. First and foremost is always preserving Tricia’s longevity. One of their favorite local daily runs where they live in Boston, is the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, which for them is a well known, safe and easy route to run. An adventure in itself, they get out out and navigate the city on a daily basis where Chaz does social work with Massachusetts Association for the Blind and coordinates Team With A Vision @teamwithavision. In their down time, when the harness comes off and Tricia isn’t working, her favorite activity is playing ball. It’s an important time for her to just be a dog. Chaz also plans to get Tricia out on trail hikes and runs in the future.
Chaz gives a shout out to both his parents for their support throughout his life, his dad for motivating him to overcome the negativity around his impairment and get back into running, his girlfriend Kyra who was there through his learning and adaptation process, and last but not least, his Hartford track and field coach Roger Busch @coachrogerbusch.
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Thanks for listening!