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Blind Runner: The Inspirational Story of Sami Stoner

Virtue and the Pursuit of Excellence

The ancient Greeks believed that happiness is the end goal of life in the sense of well-being, resulting from achieving excellence in the fulfillment of one’s function. Virtue is the way in which the fulfillment of happiness occurs and excellence achieved. One’s character and reasoning skills enables virtue to be achieved. Thus, the pursuit of excellence is a goal we all should strive to achieve in our life’s work and in daily encounters with others.

Recently, I saw a story on ESPN about a blind runner – Sami Stoner. Stoner’s story is inspirational and shows how much we can accomplish if we put our mind to it.  A legally blind 16-year-old, StonerSami traversed cross-country courses this season with her new guide dog, Chloe, and is believed to be the first high school athlete in her home state of Ohio to compete with an animal. Sami, a junior at Lexington High School, competed on the junior varsity cross country team.  

“I don’t run for time or place or anything, I just run because I love it, and I’m glad I can share my love of running with Chloe now.  She’s helped me so much.”

Having just completed her fourth year running cross country, Sami won a waiver from the state high school athletic association that allowed her to compete with a dog. The golden retriever puppy, who guides Sami through the crowded hallways at school, also takes her safely through the running trails of Ohio.

“She watches out for roots and she tries to pick the clearest path for me,” Sami said. “The ways she moves, I can feel it in her harness, so she has little ways to signal which way to go and what to do.”

At the starting line, Sami and Chloe stay back 20 to 30 seconds so Chloe doesn’t get spiked by another runner, but they usually pass other competitors by the first mile on the 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) course.

Running with just some peripheral vision is scary, Sami says. But Chloe is highly focused, which has helped Sami feel secure enough to improve her personal record to 29:53.

“There is still a little element of being terrified you’re going to fall flat on your face,” Sami says.

Sami began running cross-country in eighth grade, and by the end of that school year, her vision deteriorated and she became legally blind. She was found to have the untreatable Stargardt disease, which is similar to sight-robbing macular degeneration that affects older adults.

In high school, she worried she wouldn’t be able to compete, but teamed up with a friend, Hannah Ticoras, who ran alongside her as a guide.

“All I wanted to do was run, and running with Hannah gave me that opportunity,” says Sami.

But Hannah graduated at the end of Sami’s sophomore year.  Her mobility teacher thought she’d be a good candidate for a guide dog, and after a month of training over the summer, the Stoner family welcomed Chloe home in August.

Approaching life with uncommon verve despite her disability, those close to her say, Sami strives to be a positive role model for other visually impaired people, including a young girl she began mentoring recently.

“I just hope people learn that just because you have a disability or some kind of disadvantage that it’s not the end of the world,” says Sami, who has a 4.0 grade point average this year. “You can still do stuff, you just have to find a way of doing it.”

What makes one person achieve so much despite all odds against it? Can we imagine ourselves overcoming what Sami has had to overcome? If the answer is “no,” as I believe most people would say, then we should use Sami’s story as lesson to be learned and strive to be the best we can be at what we do. We should strive for excellence in everything we do. As Aristotle said:

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on November 2, 2012