A DOUGLAS-based blind mother-of-two is heroically taking part in the Irish Examiner Cork City Marathon this Sunday.
Nauzike Habermayer, 41, originally from Hungary, will be running alongside her husband, Peter, who will act as a guide for his wife.
This year’s marathon has the largest number of visually impaired runners participating in the Team Relay category. In all, there will be eight visually impaired people taking part from all over the country, each of whom will be accompanied by a volunteer running guide. They will raise money for the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Nauzike, who moved from Hungary to Cork with Peter in 2005, wasn’t always blind. In 2002, she contracted a rare disease which caused bleeding to the eye, causing full blindness.
She had retinitus pigmentosa, which is characterised by abnormal development of blood vessels behind the retina.
She also had Coat’s Disease, which is a breakdown and loss of cells in the retina, which is the light sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye.
At the time, Nauzike was working in finance in Hungary and was engaged to Peter. “She had to change many things,” he says.
She attended rehabilitation courses in Budapest for people who lost their vision in adult life.
Nauzike had to learn how to do things like cooking without vision and how to walk with a cane. She also learned massage, which allowed her to work on hospital patients in need of it, such as older people with arthritis.
Peter says that, as a couple, they coped well with the challenges that Nauzike’s affliction caused. They decided to move to Cork where he got a job with Apple Computers.
“We wanted to try something new for a while. We ended up staying here, longer than we had intended,” he says.
“The kids (now aged nine and ten) came along and we settled.
“Cork is more friendly than Budapest. It’s a smaller city. We find the people very nice. Having a disability is not seen as something strange.”
Peter and Nauzike were keen to get involved in a physical activity involving their children. Peter heard about the Ballincollig Park Run through a colleague, last year.
They turned up and, as luck would have it, an optometrist from Kildare, Joan Ryan, who is a running enthusiast, attended it, imparting valuable lessons for guide runners helping the visually impaired.
Joan travels all over Ireland, training people to become guide runners. This includes running with a blindfold and running while wearing glasses that mimic the eye conditions that visually impaired runners suffer from.
Over a period of time, the numbers of visually impaired runners and guides increased at the Ballincollig Park Run. They built relationships and a sense of community with others around the country.
As well as coming from Hungary, the inspirational group of visually impaired runners taking part in the marathon are from Cork, Carlow, Cavan, Tralee, Castleisland and Dublin. They range in age from mid-twenties to fifties and their guides are also in that age category.
Some of the runners are completely blind while others have 5% vision, which means they can see shapes but not detail.
The guides describe themselves as ordinary runners who are doing what they can to help other people go running. The Ballincollig Park Run is 5k. The Habermayers are enjoying the exercise.
“We started with really short distances and slowly improved. The children are running in front of us now because they’re getting better than us.”
The couple and their children have previously taken part in the Evening Echo Mini Marathon. “But this marathon will be the first time a full visually impaired team is taking part.”
Nauzike can run 5k in thirty minutes. The children are too young to take part in Sunday’s event.
As a running guide to Nuazike, Peter will hold her hand some of the time. “We have a type of band which we hold between us. It’s something that goes around our wrists and is connected with loops.”
Running together “is a good feeling”. When the family lived in Jacobs Island, they enjoyed going for walks along the waterway from Blackrock Castle.
“The children were small then. We just wanted to get out for exercise. That’s how we started, walking really short distances. We slowly improved. Nauzike is getting good at running.”
How does she cope generally with her disability?
“She can get frustrated sometimes but I’d say she is coping well. She does the cooking and she also does the school run.
“She has learned the walking route to St Luke’s School in Douglas. It’s about 900 metres from our house. She walks the children to school every morning, using her cane. She’s OK with that. The traffic is quite bad so she has to be careful.”
Would Nauzike like to have a guide dog? “Maybe. But they’re much more useful when there is less help around.
“Nauzike has the whole family to help her. The guide dogs are better for people living alone.”
Other participants in Sunday’s marathon include Prionnsias O’Keeffe, from Cork, who is a guide and Karen Anne Kealy, from Carlow, who is a visually impaired runner.
Joan Ryan will also take part and no doubt she will be very proud of the guides she has trained.
The Irish Examiner Cork City Marathon is all about being as inclusive as possible. It’s for runners of all fitness levels and abilities.