[nfbwatlk] Outrunning obstacles: Blindness doesn't slow Frankenmuth High School cross-country runner Bobby Steele, Michigan live, April 3 2013
Noel.Nightingale at ed.gov
Thu Apr 4 16:08:43 UTC 2013
Outrunning obstacles: Blindness doesn't slow Frankenmuth High School cross-country runner Bobby Steele
By Joshua Roesner | jroesner at mlive.com<mailto:jroesner at mlive.com>
The Saginaw News
April 03, 2013
FRANKENMUTH, MI - Close your eyes and take a step. Then take another step, and another. Now start running.
When you reach 3 miles, you just made it through one of Robert "Bobby" Steele's easy training days.
Steele, a senior at Frankenmuth High School, has been blind since birth. That has not stopped him from being a three-year member of the school's cross country team and completing two years on the track team.
In January, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights issued a letter to schools clarifying their legal obligation to provide students with disabilities equal opportunities to participate in sports and encouraging them to work with community organizations to increase those opportunities.
It hasn't been an issue for Steele at Frankenmuth High.
He got his start three years ago when his father, Jeff Steele, approached then assistant coach Mike Snyder about his son joining the cross country team.
"His dad came to me and asked, 'How can we make this happen for Bobby?'" Snyder recalled. "(Coach) Dave Sievert and I looked at each other and said that we'll make it happen."
Snyder consulted with Frankenmuth's athletic director and school administrators to "cross the T's and dot the I's" before going to the Michigan High School Athletic Association to obtain permission for a guide and tether.
Steele would be connected to the guide by a roughly 18-inch long tether. According to MHSAA rules, guides have to run at Robert's pace so as to not drag him. He has to cross the finish line ahead of his guide.
"No one's given us a hard time. Quite the opposite," Snyder said.
Steele said the first several weeks were the most difficult.
"It was tough, both mentally and physically," he said. "I wasn't in any shape at all running-wise."
However, he progressed quickly, Snyder noted, going from hardly able to run, to a half-mile, to running a 10-minute pace for the whole 5,000-meter course. By the end of that first season, Steele had reached the 25-minute range.
His first guide, Wayne Kniepers, was a retired dentist in Frankenmuth who happened to see him out with the other teammates, Snyder said.
Since then, there have been 15 to 20 people who have acted as guides for Steele during practice and meets.
"The guides have to basically think out loud," Steele said, noting that guides must call out directions, such as turns in the course, and any uneven footing or other hazards.
"The guides that helped Bobby, including myself and other coaches, made us look at life different," Snyder said. "Bobby's just a very happy person, never complains."
Today, the challenge is finding guides fast enough to keep up with Steele, who set a personal best of 22 minutes, 35 seconds for the 5,000 meter distance at the Portage Invitational meet last fall.
"When I started, I never thought I would get this far," Steele said. "It's kind of crazy."
Steele now hopes to best his time of 6 minutes, 19 seconds for running a mile. The time was one of the best in the state last year by a blind runner, Snyder said.
Jeff Steele expects his son to log more than 250 miles during his winter conditioning, which started Dec. 10 and will go until track season begins in the spring.
After graduation, Steele said he hopes to keep running and eventually complete a marathon.
"The biggest thing was just that he had a chance to participate," Jeff Steele said. "A lot of kids with disabilities just don't get that opportunity, and that's what we're most thankful for.
"A lot of people had to go out of their way to make this happen and go above their job description."
Readers on mobile devices can go here to access the photo gallery that accompanies this story.
More information about the NFBWATlk