Double Up 4 Vision tandem bike relay pairs blind with volunteers for 24-hour event
Saturday marked the first time 16-year-old Shelby Craig biked over the Cooper River bridge.
The Wando High School sophomore probably appreciated it more than most teenage girls because Craig, who rode at the back of a tandem bike, is legally blind.
“The feeling of going over the bridge was undescribable. I felt the wind, and there were a lot of sounds. When we coasted down the hill, we picked up a lot of speed and I loved that. It was great.”
Craig and Association for the Blind Executive Director Tripp Ritchie were among a half-dozen pairs of sighted and visually impaired cyclists who participated in the inaugural Double Up 4 Vision, which was modeled after an event started by Lighthouse International in 2010.
The local 24-hour bike relay event started at the beginning of Friday’s Charleston RiverDogs game and ended at Saturday’s game. The relay consisted of loops from Hampton Park over the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge through the Old Village of Mount Pleasant to Sullivan’s Island and back.
For those unable to go that far, the association and a small army of volunteers from the College of Charleston’s Delta Gamma sorority and Coastal Cyclists bike club helped blind people try out tandem bikes and walk around the park.
The relay, which was supported with vehicles and solo cyclists, often featured challenges for both sighted “pilots” and blind “stokers,” especially at night where pedestrians often became obstacles. For the uninitiated, tandem bikes are less nimble than single-rider bikes, and pilots quickly learned they had to communicate constantly by “thinking out loud.”
During the first leg, Morrison Avenue was flooded during an extreme high tide. One team had to change a flat tire at midnight. And on Saturday afternoon, a light rain fell.
Double Up kicks off the association’s new initiative — Look Forward — to start fitness partnerships between sighted volunteers and many of its 1,200 visually impaired members.
“It’s about the ability of people with blindness to do things. With a partner, a person with visual impairment can do just about anything,” said Ritchie, pointing to biking, running, yoga and aerobics classes as examples for fitness.
The importance of fitness for blind people, which is no different than for sighted people, is underscored by two area men who understand it from a personal standpoint, Peter Smith of Charleston and Keith Johnson of Orangeburg. Both are legally blind and participated in the relay.
“Exercise makes you feel better physically and mentally,” said Johnson, who recalls crying with grief for two months after going blind as he started to embrace exercise.
“When you’re blind, it’s so easy to become sedentary and not move around. Every day for us is a challenge because you have obstacles all day long. You have to work harder to do everyday tasks.”
While exercise helped him overcome grief, he has become fitter blind than he was sighted. Johnson has lost 30 pounds, run the Kiawah Island and Charleston marathons and the Myrtle Beach Half Marathon, and he and his wife just bought a tandem bike.
“One thing I like about the bike is you get go fast. It’s even more freedom,” said Johnson. “Coming down the bridge, we (he and pilot Michael Bannister) were peaking at 40 miles per hour. We were going so fast my (relay tag) number blew off.”