Sami Stoner has never won a race, but the Lexington, Ohio student is winning over fans and making history in the process.
The legally blind teen is running for the Lexington High School girls
cross country team, and she is believed to be the first school athlete
in Ohio to compete with a guide dog. As remarkable an accomplishment as
that is, it almost wasn’t allowed to happen.
“How could anyone in cross country complain when you look at what she
is doing? It’s powerful stuff,” Lexington head coach Denise Benson
Benson is alluding to Stoner’s struggle to get the Ohio High School
Athletic Association to grant her a waiver that would allow her to
compete with her guide dog, Chloe. Lexington Athletic Director John
Harris took a special interest in Stoner’s plight and locked horns with
the OHSAA over the course of months, making phone calls, applications
and appeals that would ultimately secure the conditional waiver she
required in order to run. From there, it was just a matter of training.
Stoner is afflicted with Stargardt disease, a juvenile form of
macular degeneration that rendered her legally blind by ninth grade.
Shortly thereafter Chloe came into her life. The guide dog is a graduate
of Pilot Dogs, an non-profit organization that has been training guide
dogs since 1950. When the two hit the trails, Chloe steers Stoner
around obstacles while the teen uses what is left of her waning
peripheral vision to watch for other runners. It’s a combination that
works: while they have not yet won any races, Sami and Chloe passed
seven runners on the course at Marshall Park in late September to the
cheers of inspired fans.
As amazing as that may be, Stoner admits that she and Chloe still
have some learning to do together. “We’re just hoping to keep on racing
and hopefully keep breaking our times. We’re just trying to do our best.
Hopefully, next season we can just keep getting better,” she said.
Sami’s father, Keith Stoner, said he’s grateful to those who worked
with OHSAA to give his daughter a chance at pursuing a dream. “It’s a
great message,” he said. “She’s never going to be up front getting a
medal, but as far as my wife and I are concerned, she wins every race.
I’m thankful that puppy was brought into our lives.”
Article posted by Life with Dogs