Blind competitor gets 'feeling' of run

October 05, 2009|By BOB PARASILITI

Christian Howard probably has never heard of Irene Cara.

That means the Rockland Woods fourth-grader had no idea the movie "Flashdance" was ever filmed.

It's a good bet neither subject crossed his mind when he competed in the 28th annual Washington County Elementary School Cross Country Run on the grounds of Emma K. Doub Elementary on Saturday. Yet, the chorus of Cara's upbeat hit "What a Feeling" from the early '80s movie seemed to be tailor-made for Christian.

What a feeling, bein's believin' ...

... Take your passion, and make it happen

Pictures come alive, you can dance right through your life.

In most ways, Christian was no different than the other 746 kids who participated in the six races on Saturday. He was out to have fun while completing an entire race. The event put the finishing touches on a physical education lesson plan to promote the importance of staying active to stay healthy.


What separated him from the rest was his courage. You see, Christian is blind.

Christian was the last participant to leave the starting gate and the final one to reach the finish line after navigating the hilly, 1,600-meter course with the help of his mother, Megan. He walked most all the way, stumbling a few times on the uneven terrain.

He didn't finish in the top 30, so he didn't receive a trophy, medal or ribbon.

But it didn't really matter.

"It was cool, but tiring," Christian said with a combination smile and grimace from behind his sunglasses after the trek. "My helpers at school said I would be good at cross country. I said I could do it."

With a little imagination and some conviction, Christian presented the idea of competing to his mother. The whole idea caught her a little off guard.

"I was nervous about it, but it was good," Megan said, while holding her son's hand at the finishing chute. "He's active. He likes to swim because he is able to get out there and feel a lot. When he said he wanted to do it, I got excited, but we had to start practicing."

The participating school offered "practices" for the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders to get ready for the run. They became miniature cross country teams while earning an appreciation for fitness. The runners came from across the county, representing the Eastern Elementary Eagles, the Conococheague Mustangs and other teams from the majority of the county's 26 public grade schools.

The whole thing was a new experience for Christian and Megan.

"We started going out and going about a mile a day for about six weeks," Megan said. "He came a long way. He could only do about 100 yards the first day."

Christian signed up for the run and was granted permission to compete by the Washington County Board of Education, which sponsored the event. He just needed one person to work with him on the course.

On race day, Christian allowed his senses and imagination to carry him. He has been relying on them since he losing his sight because of complications after cataract surgery.

"I couldn't see anything," he said. "I could hear the people around me and feel them moving."

The prerace ritual prepared Christian and allowed Megan to feel more confident about what was ahead.

"The walk (around the course before the race) really helped him," Megan said. "He was able to feel the hills coming and feel the difference between the grass, gravel and asphalt under his feet. This was good for him. I want him to be able to experience things. I think this will open his horizons and show him all the things he can do."

The Howards left the starting gate quietly, under the anonymity created by the spectators cheering for the other runners. It was a little different when he reached the homestretch.

The main race was over and the top 30 finishers were heading over to receive their awards while the Howards were still striding to finish what they were started.

A call over a bullhorn notified the crowd of what Christian was accomplishing. Slowly, the cheers swelled to encourage him and Megan to finish in strong style.

In the end, the only award Christian had to show - and needed - for his efforts was a look of accomplishment on his face.

"Yeah, it was good," he said. "I don't know. ... Maybe I'll do it again next year. I'm tired. I'll think about it when the time comes next year."

But on this Saturday, what a feeling Christian Howard experienced just by believin'.

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