Running Mount Marathon with limited vision
Running up and down Mount Marathon has become a yearly event for 12-year-old Rennick Heatwole. He first ran the Junior race in 2014.
“It was hard because I was working to do my best and not fall off the trail,” he said.
Rennick is significantly visually impaired.
“When I stick my arm out everything behind it is a blur, on the trail that’s kinda tricky,” he said.
Rennick was born with an eye condition called optic nerve hypoplasia, meaning his optic nerve is underdeveloped. It’s a condition that can’t be corrected with glasses or contacts. He describes the trail in front of him.
“The trees look like pillars of gray and green — it doesn’t look fun to go up, but, when I look down at the ground beneath me, I see that it’s fun and safe to go up,” said Rennick.
Hiking uphill, the ground is closer and Rennick can usually find good footholds. Going down is a different matter. His dad, Mike Heatwole, is a Mount Marathon veteran. He offers Rennick advice, reminding him to look for the darker patches of shale, where other runners have churned up the rocks. Rennick descends it quickly and confidently. Other racers passing by would have never guessed he’s hiking with about 30% of normal vision.
The last section of trail is a rocky creek bed littered with loose rocks, small cliffs and waterfalls. Rennick takes his time.
“Most of the time it’s fine, but parts like this when it’s almost a straight drop and I can’t see what I’m dropping into,” he said. “That can freak me out.”
He’s trying for a new personal record this year, but admits he’s really just here for the fun of the race.
“I don’t look at as how far can I see,” he says. ” I look at it as, ‘Am I having fun? Am I being safe?’”