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Legally Blind Runner Completes Half Marathon With Help From Man's Best Friend

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Ken Fernald completed his fifth half marathon at the annual Binghamton Bridge Run this Sunday. For the first time in his 12 years as a runner, he finished the race with the help of Winnie, his two-year-old guide dog.

Fernald has Juvenile Macular Degeneration and has been legally blind for most of his life. His vision worsened over the past four years, leading him to adopt Winnie last October. For the first ten miles, Fernald was accompanied by his future daughter-in-law, but his canine companion took over the last three miles

“She really did well. I had a hard time keeping up with her. It’s just freedom, independence. Being able to run and know she’s going to have my best interests in mind, and keep me safe the entire time is just liberating.” - Ken Fernald

Fernald is part of the Running Guides Program, which allows runners with vision loss to compete with guide dogs rather than rely on other people or be limited to running on a treadmill.

“Running is a good way to stay fit. Having Winnie as a seeing eye dog allows me to maintain my fitness. I can go for a run, just leave my house in the neighborhood, and come back and not have to worry about scheduling someone else. It’s a phenomenal experience for me.” - Ken Fernald

Fernald is the president and CEO of Association Vision Rehabilitation and Employment (AVRE) which offers free vision services in nine counties. Their Court Street office employs people with vision loss and helps clients move around independently in their environments.

“We’re traveling quite a lot, going to people’s homes, houses, places of business and helping them maintain their independence. We just want to continue to grow and create opportunities for success and independence. We want to make sure that we’re getting the word out and that we’re right here in Binghamton.” - Ken Fernald

Two other legally blind runners participated in the 5K run but were not accompanied by seeing eye dogs. Completing the half marathon in just two hours and fourteen minutes, Fernald placed 381 out of nearly 700 people.

“People with vision loss, people that are blind can still be independent. They can do the same things as other people do. They just have to do it a little bit differently.” - Ken Fernald