High school friends lean on each other to fight blindness

Featured, Running News

Amanda Dale and Holly Blackburn play off each other like dance partners — just a little less gracefully. The 22-year-olds have been close friends since they were on their high school track team and kept things going at the University of Central Florida as roommates. Now, as recent graduates, the two have made a point to remain running buddies.

“I have a harder time in some races, though,” Amanda says. “ She falls a lot,” Holly interrupts with a laugh.

Amanda has achromatopsia — a genetic disorder that causes complete colorblindness, as well as extreme nearsightedness and photophobia. “Well, I can see — or at least guess some reds.” She then laughed as we played a game of what color is this. “What about your shirt?” I asked. Amanda looked down. “It’s orange, but I only know because Holly told me.” The two walk along in their dance, laughing and taking on challenges as Holly acts as a backboard for Amanda’s easily over-excited efforts.

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It’s not easy for Amanda to participate in races — she can’t follow paint markings or see cones well — but she competes anyway. Amanda wears dark red contact lenses that help her with the light and with vision overall. “Still, I can’t really see anything. But if there is a big crowd, I can just kind of follow along.” Back in high school, she recalls her coach yelling into a megaphone when she veered off course. When the duo take on less packed races, Holly’s job becomes more important. “I try to guide her by having her head for certain shapes — every once in a while I try to tell her to run toward a color, but then I catch myself.” The two fell into laughter. Amanda and Holly live an hour apart in Florida and sometimes have to train separately — a fact that Amanda is casually more comfortable with. “Yeah, it’s fine — I pretty much know my routes.” Holly’s eyes widened. “I still get nervous when I think of her running alone,” Holly says, interrupted by a look from Amanda. “What! You keep running into cars!”

As a child, Amanda always loved being active, but most sports like football, baseball and soccer caused a major problem. “I couldn’t play because of my lack of coordination,” she explained. Not only does Amanda deal with color issues, she is also extremely nearsighted, has trouble with sunlight and needs sharp contrast. Amanda’s twin sister also has the same problems. “When we were 2, our doctors told my parents that we were faking it.” It wasn’t until she was 8 years old that her optometrist put in the effort to get to the bottom of the issue. Over time, the kids in school made it obvious to Amanda that she was different, but she didn’t let that get in her way.

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“Probably when I was 12 years old, I realized that I could not — and would not — let other people’s expectations, or lack thereof, define who I could be and what I could do,” Amanda says. “My uncle was as blind as me, and he created and sold his own company to become a millionaire.”

The two completed this weekend’s Berlin Marathon together as a part of the Endurance Leaders Foundation and are already daydreaming about their next race. As for triathlons? The two agree it’s never going to happen.

“I almost drowned once,” Amanda said. “We’re both pretty bad at swimming,” Holly smiled.

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