A guiding light for blind runners

Non-profit group helps father and son stay competitive.
Philadelphia's Chris Lynch, left, and son Kinzey are part of Team Achilles, which pairs disabled athletes with guides. Father and son competed in the 15K. SCOTT PURKS   |   Special to the Times
Philadelphia's Chris Lynch, left, and son Kinzey are part of Team Achilles, which pairs disabled athletes with guides. Father and son competed in the 15K.SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times
Published February 25 2017
Updated February 25 2017

TAMPA — Thousands of souls ran from downtown Saturday morning in the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K.

They saw skyscrapers rise up, the river flow under bridges, mansions and palm trees over Bayshore Boulevard, and the sun shine on the finish-line banner.

Two of those souls, Chris Lynch and son Kinzey, are blind, yet didn't miss a detail.

Chris, 44, was born without sight in his right eye, then lost it in his left thanks to a detached retina. And despite heredity playing no part in the process, Kinzey, 21, was born with microphthalmia, which means he will never see anything but minuscule shimmers of light, shadows and color.

They should never compete without a guide, someone who runs alongside tethered in a grip on a 3-foot string.

On Saturday, they ran with old friends from Team Achilles, who traveled with the Lynches from their homes in Philadelphia. It was another in a growing list of races with Achilles, a non-profit group that pairs disabled athletes with guides. It's an organization that pretty much changed the Lynches' lives.

"I decided that I wanted to start running in the seventh grade, so one day I just showed up at cross country practice and went out and started running," Kinzey said. "I had no guide and everybody just left me behind.

But I kept going to practice. It wasn't until my junior year that I found Achilles and then everything started to get better."

From there he moved from starting at the back of the pack to starting at the front — "because in the front I wouldn't have to make my way around all those people that I would pass."

Turns out Kinzey is pretty fast and inspirational, especially after completing a few marathons.

Chris said that when he discovered what his son was doing — "and saw my own belly getting bigger and bigger" — he decided to join the program.

A few years later, Chris (who lost 40 pounds) and Kinzey run together (with Achilles' guides) just about every Saturday. They would run more, but Chris is busy working for Verizon and Kinzey is busy studying business at Drexel University.

Ultimately, Chris said, there is no finish line in their running plans.

"This is something we can share and get better and stronger in the process," he said. "How awesome is that?"

On Saturday, running with guides Cedric Edwards and Rick Cayer, Kinzey finished in one hour, 13.07 minutes (405th place overall). Chris — running with Mark Teschko, Joe Schmidt and Bob Brown — finished in 1:21.42 (969th overall).

As for Tampa and their experience at the Distance Classic, Chris said, "I loved absolutely everything about it."

Added Kinzey: "I would love to come back and run it again."

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