"This awareness just comes naturally and that’s the awesome part. When I’m running I don’t even have to tell myself to reflect, I just start thinking about my day and my life. I come up with some of my best ideas when I’m running.”
On a typically cold, windy, wet, February day Aaron Scheidies decides to delay his morning run until the afternoon when it’s been predicted to clear up. The condo he shares with his wife Brittney, nestled in a quiet NW Seattle neighborhood, provides easy access to three or four regular training routes right out his door. Hanging out with Aaron, everything seems normal. It’s not until he gets a text on his iPhone that you get a hint that his normal is not the average runner’s normal. Holding the phone close up to his face he listens as a high-speed, synthesized voice reads his texts. Being legally blind is not a big issue for Aaron.
For this 3-time national champion at the Boston Marathon in the blind/visually impaired category, it’s his accomplishments, not his blindness, that define who he is. You could spend the day with him, at his home, in the kitchen, at the grocery store, on his run, and not be particularly aware that he only sees blurry blobs. But he didn’t acquire this self-confidence easily. It required a lot of hard work, reflection and soul-searching. And running played a major role.
Aaron was born an athlete. By the time he was in high school however, he was an athlete without the benefit of the kind of vision most athletes take for granted. His condition, juvenile macular degeneration, progressively diminished his sight to the point where he now has only 20% vision. The challenges of pursuing competitive sports while visually impaired drove him to find a way to perform at the level he knew he was capable of.
Aaron found the outlet he sought in endurance sports. Training more and pushing harder, he noticed, created a relaxing effect. He found that his workouts provided an outlet for the stress of dealing with his blindness. Being a visually impaired athlete was a rollercoaster ride. Continually having to prove himself and educate society on the capabilities of the vision impaired could be as challenging as competition. But when he got out and trained everything got better.
On this blustery, late-winter day Aaron gets a break. The sun makes a rare NW appearance late in the afternoon during his training session. With his normal route memorized he can visualize the course, usually running in the street where it’s actually safer. The sunlight boosts the contrast, aiding his limited perception of shape and form.
For Aaron, what started out as a way to overcome the disruption of his sight loss has become a successful career at the highest level of endurance sports. In the visually impaired category he has competed in over 300 triathlons, is a 7-time para triathlon champion, 3-time national champion at the Boston Marathon, world record holder for fastest blind athlete in the Olympic distance triathlon and 10-time national para triathlon champion. Aaron’s greatest running moment was in 2000 at the Boston Marathon when he ran 2:44, his best time at Boston.
His proudest moment as a visually impaired athlete was being named a finalist for a 2011 ESPY. The ESPYs, the Academy Awards of sports, had always been a dream of Aaron’s. Being an ESPY finalist was public recognition for reaching the pinnacle of his sport.
Aaron has succeeded not only as a leader in the world of running but as a leader, spokesperson and role model for the visually impaired. If he can make competing in the Olympics normal for a blind runner, imagine what else can be made normal. He reflects on his accomplishments: “When I look back at what I’ve accomplished, it even overwhelms me. I feel as though in 35 years I’ve done more than I thought I would at 80 years old.”