Blind runner Terezinha Guilhermina from Brazil cried as she received her gold medal in the women’s 100m T11 final at the Paralympic Games in London on Wednesday night. Guilhermina’s guide, Guilherme Soares de Santana, raced alongside Guilhermina to the finish. The pair were overjoyed at the victory, particularly after what NBC News reports as “a heartbreaking race” in the 400m a mere 24 hours earlier.
Guilhermina, accompanied by Soares de Santana, won the gold with a world record time of 12.01 seconds and added the victory to her win in the 200m. The pair managed to recover from the disastrous 400m race in which guide Soares de Santana fell just short of the finish line, making way for France’s Assia El Hannouni to take the gold. The devastating fall underscores the significant role that a blind runner’s guide plays in blind athlete’s success … or failure.
This year, the relationship between a blind runner and their guide will be formally recognized for the first time.
In the London 2012 Paralympic Games, guide runners, for the first time, are also eligible for medals. In this unique relationship, the guide runner and blind or partially-blind runner work as a team; this year, the guide runner will receive a medal for his or her accomplishment alongside their partner. According to Karen Darke of Disaboom.Com, “a blind runner may choose to use an elbow lead, a tether, or to run free, and may receive verbal instruction from the guide.” The blind athlete and the guide runner must work together flawlessly in order to win; the blind runner must have the confidence to run at maximum capacity, trusting the guide to assist, while the guide must respect the blind athlete, never crossing the finish line first. As in the case of Guilhermina and Soares de Santana, the guide runner for women’s competitions is often male, since the guide must have the capacity to run faster than the blind athlete.