Many thanks indeed to Don Hale for this article
North Wales athlete Daniel Owens is fast becoming a popular character seen around at local Parkruns and road races.
And just like many other runners, he is always keen to improve his fitness and reduce his finishing times.
The big difference however, is that Daniel, from Mochdre, is partially sighted and totally reliant upon generous guides to help him around courses.
Now aged 25, he has faced the gradual deterioration of his vision in both eyes since he was a young teenager.
Unfortunately, he suffers from an inherited disorder that results in harmful changes called Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP for short).
He says it is often called “night blindness” in which the light sensitive retina of the eye slowly and progressively degenerates.
Far from putting him off taking part in any sporting activities, his disability has in fact acted as an incredible spur, and over recent times he has also taken part in football, gym work-outs, swimming, and even cycling!
Although generally reliant on some form of support, he now revels in both the inter-action with similar visually impaired friends, and with more able-bodied sportspeople.
What he can see is obviously very limited, and he confirmed: “When I was young, I initially thought I was just short-sighted but my vision started to deteriorate rapidly when I was about 13. I was OK up to a point but I had “night blindness,” there is no known cure for this disorder and it affects both eyes.
“When I run, I can only just see the person directly ahead of me but I can’t always make out what people look like. I can see them a bit better if they are wearing bright clothing.”
He said that when he first started running, late last year, he wasn’t too nervous going along with an able-bodied athlete, but said he didn’t know quite what to expect.
Daniel added: “I’d never done anything like that before. It was a learning curve for me. I had to learn how to run, but now I’m quite confident.”
He continued: “I only really started running last October when I was a student. I wanted to integrate into some sort of sporting activity and my friend Charlene, who is also visually impaired, came across a site called RunTogether, and veteran runner Mary Rees came over from the Wallasey club, and took us both out for a run.
“Mary also got me networking and helped me to get involved with things like the Conwy Parkrun, where I met other runners like Martin and Carla Green from NWRRC, and Anthony Parvin.
“Carla now takes me out for training runs whenever she can during the week – and I’d like to thank her and Martin, and Anthony, for sparing their time and for helping me.”
Mary’s original role proved extremely beneficial to Daniel’s rapid progress and she confirmed that although she is a notable veteran athlete herself, she emphasises, that she is not a coach, but a ‘guide runner.’
She explained: “Charlene contacted me through the ‘Find-a-Guide’ database administered by RunTogether so our very first outing was as a three-some – and we still do that sometimes.
“Carla is now Daniel’s main guide for more serious training. He says she is a natural. He has also trained and been helped by the GOG’s, and now has several other occasional guides, including some he has met through the Parkrun.”
Mary added: “It seems a strange situation that RunTogether and the Find-a-Guide database are run under the auspices of England Athletics and are also funded by them. Anyone can train and get a UKA licence for guiding (not that you need one for guiding), but technically only people with English addresses can get onto the database.
“I live on the Wirral so I got in and set my radius for 30 miles, which is how Charlene found me. That could all change of course if Welsh Athletics set up a similar guiding database.”
Mary, who has been guiding for about six years runs, with many visually impaired runners and even ran her own first marathon as a guide with her friend Ben in 2016.
She said: “I think this was Ben’s third or fourth marathon but it was my first – so it was not clear who was guiding whom. Obviously, he needed me – or someone – but I also needed him to get me round!”
She says Daniel is now much fitter and faster than her and although they don’t do too many races together, they still train whenever possible.
“Meeting and running with Daniel has certainly been very interesting and rewarding, and he is developing very fast. He recently recorded a 10k PB at Rhyl running with my club colleague Alex Yem, and his Parkrun times are also impressive. I expect he will go under 20-minutes over a 5k very soon – but Carla is a better judge than me.”
Carla Green from the North Wales Road Runners Club is another prolific athlete over varied distances, and explained:
“Daniel is doing so well – it’s unbelievable really. He is so positive and he is a good friend now.”
Daniel has additionally taken part in many Conwy Parkruns, plus the Deganwy 5-mile Dash, and a very hilly 10k race. He says he would like to test himself over a half-marathon or even a marathon, and confirmed he has just entered the Conwy Half-Marathon as a potential bench-mark, and is hoping to run it with Carla.
He was eager to explain that he now likes to add some cardio training to his fitness regime, working on a static bike and some weights, but stated that initially, he never really looked on running as a competitive sport, and was more focused on improving his overall fitness, and as a social activity.
Over the past few months though, his targets have changed slightly, and he now says: “I seem to get a PB (personal best time), nearly every time I run now. I am much fitter and stronger than I have ever been. And I occasionally go to the gym too at Colwyn Bay Leisure Centre because I know the layout, and if I need assistance they always help.”
He additionally praised the role of people like Mark Richards at Disability Sports Wales and Conwy Council, and is now working with them to try to identify and establish more visually impaired sporting opportunities, activities, and events in the area.
Daniel believes his disability knowledge and experience may eventually lead to a job within sport, but for the moment he just intends to try and improve his ability as a runner, and that perhaps one day he may even represent Wales at the highest level.