Guest Contributor: Christie Ivanstrom
I was born with Albinism, a rare genetic condition which impacts vision, skin and hair color. I’m legally blind, lack depth perception, have snow white hair, require gallons of sunblock when I step outside, am unable to drive, and have an extreme sensitivity to light. For much of my childhood I was super shy and timid, worried about being different and fitting in and unsure how I was going to navigate the world. I have found my calling.
Shockingly, not being able to drive, can be a big limitation. At times, it has resulted in me feeling like a burden on others, my husband included. I often find myself going out of my way to figure out how I can be as independent as possible. There are countless examples of me riding my bike to a friend's house to avoid them having to pick me up, spending hours walking/biking to do errands, or committing double the amount of time on public transit even when my husband/friends offer to drive. Part of me is stubborn and worried about the impact on others but the other part of me loves being able to use the power of my own body to get around on my own.
When I was in high school I tried out for the track team as a 400m hurdler, thinking that it would be an easy sport to do with limited vision. I didn't tell my coach I was legally blind because I was embarrassed and did not want to be treated differently. Eventually he caught on. Maybe my parents told him or he figured it out on his own but he never deterred me from learning and trying. I quickly understood that hurdles weren't just about seeing the hurdles and jumping over them, it was about counting steps, setting a cadence, developing a flow between hurdles, and actually “feeling” when to jump. To my surprise, I was pretty damn good and competed in the 2004 Empire State Games before running cross country in college at SUNY New Paltz from 2004-2008.
For years I limited myself to running on roads, trying to find not-so-technical hiking trails and avoiding biking in a busy city. When I moved to CA a few years ago I met a bunch of amazing people who encouraged me to start trail running. As nervous as I was, in true Christie fashion, I went after it and haven’t looked back.
Don't get me wrong, trail running, especially on technical terrain, is a massive challenge. As much as I love to downplay my limitations I’m not going to sugar coat it. The truth is, it’s extremely difficult to tell the difference between a rock or root as opposed to a safe flat landing spot for each foot strike. It is even more difficult to differentiate how far down I can step and not fall on my face or heaven forbid a forested area where there's a lot of light and dark contrast from the trees.
I pride myself on being someone who “almost” falls so many times it actually becomes comical with my running group. Unsurprisingly, I have fallen and rolled my ankles countless times. More times than not, I am covered in dirt, blood or mud and have been fearful that I am not going to make it through serious trails without significant injuries. With all of that said, I sincerely find joy in sensing, weaving and moving my body through these amazingly technical trails. The nonstop bumps and bruises are absolutely worth it.
One of the biggest limitations that not being able to drive has had on me is not having the opportunity to easily go for a run, hike or camping trip outside of the city on my own. There is something about being alone in nature that is so zenning. Over the past few years I have found myself simply running to the trails in my area; what is an extra mile or six right?! I started planning solo bike rides to different breweries and realized I could ride pretty far when there is an ice cold incentive in play as well! It has become a freeing experience for me and I have enjoyed moving through life each new adventure at a time.
Over the years of confronting my reality, I’ve realized that, although I am legally blind, I am not that limited. In fact I have been able to accomplish things that many sighted people have not been able to do. I am in no way trying to sound cocky, but this approach has become a way of life for me. I don't often tell people that I am legally blind because really what does that mean? I can see what I can see and I am very capable. Eventually people find out and are surprised. They often ask me how I am able to do what I do. Honestly, being blind hasn't limited me, it has undoubtedly, and completely, shaped me.
I was born with vision loss and will live with it for the rest of my life as my condition cannot be corrected. I can proudly share that I have obtained my masters degree and am a successful social worker in my professional life. In my personal life, I have been married to my amazing husband Tim who has been my biggest support and adventure partner over the past 14 years.
I have been running since I was 16 and now, as a 34 year old, I have completed over a dozen half marathons, two marathons, two trail 50Ks and just ran the Backcountry Rise 20 Mile trail race in the Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument in WA last weekend. I have hiked all over the US, Austria and Brazil, biked across NY state and recently found the amazing joys of backpacking.
My disability has shaped me in a way that I never dreamed. I love the fact that I am officially a proud ultra runner, I’m able to bike independently through major cities and that I can boulder/rock climb at a respectable grade.
My hope and goal is that I can encourage others with varying abilities to find their own amazing way of navigating the world. Whichever senses you enjoy, use them to enjoy life to its fullest.
About the Author:
Christie Ivanstrom is a legally blind woman with Albinism that is all about the trail running, cycling, camping/backpacking, beering, hashing and traveling life. Christie currently lives in Portland OR with her Husband Tim. They are no strangers to enjoying the massive outdoor offerings of the Pacific Northwest.
Follow her journey on her BLOG, YOUTUBE and INSTAGRAM
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Human Powered Journal
Writings and musings of an active lifestyle
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