Northern Ireland

Paralympics inspires NI teenager to guide blind runner

Hannah Cochrane
Image caption Hannah Cochrane is one of Northern Ireland's youngest guide runners

Forget Jessica Ennis: 13-year-old Hannah Cochrane is becoming one of the Northern Ireland's most in-demand sporting stars.

Hannah is a guide runner and supports visually impaired people when they are running.

Guide runners usually run alongside those with visual impairments, they hold a strap and give verbal instructions to the runner telling them what is ahead.

As more and more visually impaired people want to take up running, there is a shortage of guide runners to help them get started.

Hannah guides Tony Barclay who has been registered blind for 22 years.

The pair have become a regular fixture at park runs across Northern Ireland.

Image caption Tony Barclay running with a guide runner at the Carrickfergus park run

"At races I had seen Tony running and I wanted to know more about it," she said.

"Then I watched the Paralympics and saw the guide runners and thought they were such an inspiration.

"I want people to enjoy running as much as I do and I figured if I wanted to that I should help.

"It's quite simple really and that is why other people should do it."

Tony said it was hard to put into words how much running had changed his life.

Image caption Tony Barclay has been registered blind for the last 22 years and has now started running along with a guide

"It's been huge. Mentally, it has made a big difference.

"I feel a lot happier about things in life. I feel more involved." he said.

"Being sight impaired is very socially exclusive, it's just the nature of the beast, but running, that doesn't happen.

"I'm just part of the group. Everyone has been so welcoming and it has made such a difference.

"From being isolated and very alone you feel like, you know what, I'm part of society again. This is life, this is great and you get a real buzz from it."

Pete Lock is also visually impaired and only took up running about a year and a half ago after completing a couch to 5km scheme.

Image caption Peter Lock said that running with a guide had made a huge difference to his mental and emotional well being

He has since gone on to complete a half marathon.

"It would not have been possible without guide runners, they are the key," he said.

"For me personally, my mental wellbeing has improved significantly and also the social aspect of it - coming to park run on a Saturday you meet so many people."

Pete has been guided by Vivienne Davidson who is now training up the next generation of guides.

The free courses are being run across Northern Ireland to train volunteers to be guides.

Image caption Matthew Elliot-Wilson is blindfolded and guided around the track by wife Janice who is holding the strap and calling out instructions

During the course they learn the best techniques for guiding, but they also have to complete a practical test.

Trainees are paired up outside, and given a strap to hold as they run round the track - with one of the pair blindfolded while the other guides.

'Difficult and scary'

Janice Elliot-Wilson and her husband Matthew were two of those who decided to give it a go.

"It was really difficult and scary at points," said Mrs Elliot-Wilson.

Her husband added: "There were things on the course like nettles that I've never noticed any time I've run this park before.

"You could feel things through your feet that you were not aware of before."

The couple said it was something they would now like to keep doing.

Image caption Janice Elliot-Wilson and husband Matthew said they found the course challenging but added guide running was something they will now keep up

For those still not convinced, Tony Barclay has one final plea.

"We need more people who can guide us," he said. "Its very simple, without guide runners, we can't run.

"You don't need to be Mo Farah, just come along and have a laugh.

"There are lots of people out there who would like to run but can't because we don't have the guide runners.

"Get up and give it a go."

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