Greensboro resident Kinyata Williams has been blind for 25 years. She will run her first 5K, at Fleet Feet Sports' The Big Run, on Wednesday.






Day job

Licensed massage therapist; caring for mother (Janice Williams)

Why I run ...

"I lost my sight when I was 16 years old due to a rare disorder called Pseudotumor Cerebri. At the same time, I developed another rare disorder called Guillain-Barre. The Guillain-Barre left me paralyzed on my right side and below my waist. So for maybe a month or two, I was paralyzed and couldn't move. The pseudotumor was caused, or at least a contributing factor, was that I was overweight. So my story begins at that point, at 16, going blind and in just a short amount of time being paralyzed. And all of the things that came with the trauma – the fear of being around other people, the anxiety issues – all of that just started then. It wasn't until last year that I decided finally I was going to get help.

"I reached out to Anthony Robbins, a life coach, and signed up with Alisa. And she has been working with me to get rid of that fear and that anxiety. And finally, this year, I just said, 'You know what, I get it. I get it.' A lot of my issues – the feelings of being trapped on a roller coaster, the feelings that I can never be good enough, the feelings that I'm never going to be good at anything – come from this blindness thing. 'What is it that I can do to really prove to myself that I can overcome these challenges and take on any task?'

"And that was doing this 5K (Fleet Feet Sports' The Big Run on Wednesday, Global Running Day). So I said to Elizabeth (McLeod, a trainer she met at Gold's Gym), 'You know what? I want to run.' And she was like, 'OK, really?' (laughs). And she was like, 'You could totally do that.' And I'm like, 'Really?' Elizabeth was my cheerleader. I was like, 'OK, so yeah, yeah, I think I'm going to run.'

"And so we started training, doing a lot of strength training. We worked on a treadmill. We use sandbags on the treadmill, and she would have to stand behind me because of the fear of falling off. And it was a good way for both of us to develop getting close to one another, because I never was one of those type of people that liked people up close to me. And Elizabeth was like, 'You know what, you're going to accept it, you're going to like it or not (laughs). It's going to be what it is.' So we work real hard at building communication and building trust with one another. And finally, last week, we hit the road. And I told her, 'You gave me the biggest gift. I never felt so free running before. I just I never felt free like that.' I really enjoy running because it really gives you that sense that you're free, that you can do this, and that anything is possible. So that's my journey."

... and how I do it

"You see that there's a lot of communication going on. Once we put the harness on and I grab the leash, I can literally feel every movement that she makes. If she goes to the left, I'll go to the left. If she goes to the right, I'll go to the right. And Elizabeth's role as a coach, and just as a sighted person, is to tell me if there's a car on the right, a pedestrian on the right or left, a child, if there's something that we don't want to step in, you know, those type of things. So she's supposed to give the verbal feedback. And I respond to that. As you saw on the video, we try to keep our breath on the same pace. And she's been really working with me on becoming more comfortable at taking breaths. Breathing is important when it comes to running. I never realized, and I never realized how wrong I breathe (laughs) until we started this. You have to give her enough cues in order for her to trust you. And if there's something coming up in, say, only 10 more paces, I don't see what that is. So if she's saying 'we're real close, we're close' and I start freaking out, she has to say, 'We are extremely close. We are 10 steps away. Keep up, keep it up, keep it up.' So she has to be there to kill that anxiety, to speak louder than a little voice telling me to 'stop, stop stop; you can't go any further.' She's a coach on so many different levels. Not only is she helping me train and do this, but she has to motivate me and keep me calm and all types of stuff."


In a screengrab from their video, Kinyata Williams shares a light moment with her trainer and running partner, Elizabeth McLeod, in the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park.

The challenges I face in running ...

"Finding someone who's willing to run with you. And the trust factors; you'll have to establish trust. But the hardest challenge is just finding someone who's willing to work with you and be patient with you. I have reached out to some organizations in the area a time or two through email. They didn't know me, didn't know my story, didn't know anything. But the minute I mentioned the blindness thing, they were just like, 'Oh, no, we can't assist you with that. You can bring someone who will work with you. But we can't assist you with that.' I understand; it's a liability thing. But it was just the fact that you weren't willing to be open-minded enough to even try. It's not so much that we are blind and we can't do anything, it's just you have to be open-minded enough to find out what we can and cannot do. And be curious enough to want to explore that. A lot of people miss out on the opportunity of getting to know really good people because they have disabilities."

... and limitations I don't have

"Once you get to know a person, and you see what they're able to do, you will find that there are no limitations, there are no excuses. All it is when working with blind people is a communication thing. We have to know that we can trust you; we have to know that you can trust the blind person. There's really no limitation."

Faster, higher, stronger

"I really enjoy picking things up and throwing them; we use the sandbag (laughs). Anything that has to do with picking up something heavy and really just testing myself. ...

"I really hate the treadmill (laughs). It does not compare to being on the road and getting in the air and actually moving toward a destination rather than visualizing the destination. I like the action of running. You get out there, and you hear other people running on the side of you and you hear their pace. And you're like, 'Wow, OK, I get it, I get it.' There is a rhythm to running that I don't think a lot of runners even pay attention to. It's really a heartbeat. It's musical, and I'm not even a musician."

Life passions

"I'm trying to start a blog for blind women. I'm calling it She's Blind. And I'm trying to launch it on June the 3rd (Monday), right before the race. It is going to tell my story, how I lost sight, my struggles and accepting my sight, all the excuses and fears and anxieties that I felt. And then we're going to branch off into everyday topics and issues. But I want to approach it from a blind woman's perspective, because often you don't hear our voice. We are kind of an invisible group."

My running inspiration

"I don't know any runners. This is really a brand-new experience that I am taking on. Twenty-five years ago, if you would have asked me 'are you going to run a 5K?' I would have told you 'hell naw!' (laughs) Because that was not on my mind. So this is brand-new. The only person that I can say inspires me is me right now. And hopefully that inspiration will get me to the finish line."

What I think about while I'm running

"I'm concentrating on what Elizabeth is doing. I have to focus on what my coach is doing and what she's provided me: The clues and stuff, what's on my left, what's on my right. I'm very aware of what my feet are doing, how they're moving. And I'm aware of my breathing, trying to make sure that I'm with Elizabeth on the same page. I'm also thinking about how much further (laughs). 'Can I go any further?' When I am having one of those moments where I know I'm freaking out, where it feels like I can't go any further, that's where I need to learn how to pace and control. Because that's when my mind is like, 'I can't do this, I can't do this, I can't do this.' And Elizabeth and I have this saying, 'Let go, let God.' Or I'll just start counting, '1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4-5,' to try to get my mind to divert from saying 'I can't' and saying 'I can.' So I have a lot of things going on that, obviously, I have to deal with because I'm blind. But inside chatter – I have to try and limit as much as possible because I have to focus on everything else."

Up next

"I want to continue running. I want to see what kind of groups we have here and perhaps hook up with someone to see if they might help me in that journey. I can't rely on Elizabeth all the time because she's going to put me back on some weights real soon here (laughs). I want to do another race. I don't want to say that I don't want to do a 10K, but why not? It's possible. Everything is. I would like to get good enough to get there. So improve on my time, definitely improve on my stride, absolutely become better at pacing myself and breathing. Oh, my God, a big thing. And taking on different terrains. Running on pavement is different from running on the rocks. Things of that nature. So it's a different sensation. And just really learning how to work them hills – oh my God! (laughs)."

Words to the wise

"Tame those thoughts that you have. To me, running is more mental than it is physical. It is telling yourself that you can do it, that you're going to do it. It doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to be done. It has to be completed. If you start it, you finish it. There's no right or wrong way. And first, you just gotta do it. You've just got to get out there and do it. That's the first mental game. That's the first mental trick that you have to overcome is getting up and going and doing it."

Contact Eddie Wooten at (336) 373-7093, and follow @EddieWootenNR on Twitter.