Engaging in running allowed me to redefine my perception of what I believed to be achievable,” expresses Francesco Magisano, the director of Achilles NYC Metro Region, in an interview. Magisano encountered visual impairment when he was in high school due to a rare form of eye cancer. He is now 28 years old and excels as a para-triathlete. One of his noteworthy athletic accomplishments was completing the 2023 Boston Marathon with the aid of an Achilles Guide. Magisano emphasizes that running, regardless of being visually impaired or having any other disability, offers more than simply putting on footwear and stepping out the door, as he shares with Shape Magazine.
Similar sentiments apply to other cardiovascular activities, such as walking. According to a 2020 study published in Preventive Medicine, individuals with disabilities have reported facing additional obstacles when engaging in activities like walking, especially in environments like New York City. Magisano highlights the importance of coordination, which is where Achilles steps in to assist.
While Magisano’s achievements in running are personal milestones, they have also become an integral part of his professional life. As the director of the flagship chapter of Achilles, an organization that caters to individuals with disabilities, including youth, adults, and veterans, Magisano strives to develop an understanding of Achilles’ benefits and how it fosters a sense of community.
What is Achilles International?
Achilles International is a worldwide organization present in 18 countries and comprising over 10,000 members and 4,500 volunteers. The organization’s mission is to eliminate barriers and empower individuals with disabilities, enabling them to triumph in endurance events such as road races, symbolized by crossing the finish line.
Magisano credits Achilles for opening up countless possibilities in his life. He initially joined as a member, and this firsthand experience helped him comprehend the profound impact Achilles has on individuals. This realization fuels his motivation to extend the same opportunities to others, recognizing that by engaging in physical activity, lives can be transformed.
Dr. Rummana Aslam, a physiatrist and associate professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation at Yale, shares with Shape Magazine that programs like Achilles International create opportunities for empowerment. The belief that disability does not equate to inability resonates strongly within these programs, enabling individuals with any level of disability to improve and establish personalized goals.
The programs are designed to enhance their distinct capabilities—and foster companionship and self-assurance.
How Achilles International Benefits Athletes With Disabilities
Achilles International, established in 1983, strives to enhance the lives of individuals with disabilities through athletic programs and social connections. Their focus revolves around exercise related to endurance.
Furthermore, the organization welcomes athletes of every age group with disabilities such as visual impairment, hearing loss, amputation, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, cognitive issues, developmental disability, intellectual disability, and more.
Regular physical activity is crucial for everyone, particularly those with disabilities, which encompasses approximately one-quarter of the adult population according to the CDC. Engaging in regular physical activity can contribute to a better quality of life, mental well-being, weight management, and overall health, as well as disease prevention.
The program pairs athletes with volunteers (referred to as Achilles Guides) who share similar objectives and paces worldwide. Athletes of all ability levels and paces are welcome, regardless of their goals – be it running their first-ever 5K, walking on a weekly basis, participating in a marathon, or enjoying a leisurely ride in the park.
Margaret DeJesus, the director of communications for Achilles International, states, “Athletes can run, walk, or roll. We also provide adaptive cycling and wheelchair racing in select cities.”
How Achilles International Fosters Community
However, Achilles does more than simply match athletes with guides. The organization prioritizes the development of a community. Magisano emphasizes that while the physical benefits are remarkable, the community aspect is equally vital. Achilles Guides are not just present to ensure athletes’ safety, but they often become trusted teammates and close friends.
Magisano comments, “The relationships I establish with the people I run with are my favorite. I don’t view guides as mere volunteers. Many have become my dearest friends.” And the partnerships formed bring advantages to both athletes and guides.
Tianna Biscone, an Achilles Guide situated in New York City, highlights that building trust – a significant element of any community – is one of the most crucial aspects of her role. She states, “Trust plays a major role, especially for a visually impaired runner. It can be unsettling to rely completely on someone else for your safety. I consider it a privilege to have someone trust me as their guide. It’s not something I ever take for granted.”
Her role as a guide has redefined her understanding of success, Biscone informs Shape magazine. “Guiding has also influenced the way I perceive success and accomplishment. When I guide someone in a race, my focus is entirely on their goal, and I do everything in my power to assist them in achieving it – whether it’s completing a marathon in under four hours or simply crossing the finish line of a 5K.”
She adds that it is more fulfilling to help someone else give their best rather than solely concentrating on her own races. “I believe it ultimately boils down to the fundamental trust we share. The experience becomes much more gratifying when we accomplish it as a team.”
How It Works and How To Get Involved
Achilles International offers a variety of programs suitable for diverse needs. To categorize them:
- The Achilles Freedom Team aims to assist injured military personnel and veterans.
- The Achilles Kids division provides training and racing opportunities, along with an in-school program, for children with disabilities.
- The TriAchilles Team extends the Achilles running program to include swimming and cycling.
Additionally, there are Achilles Chapter workouts and the organization’s Hope & Possibility race, which takes place in cities worldwide. The organization operates in the United States and in 17 other nations. In the US, there are 28 chapters spread across 19 states and Washington D.C. Internationally, there are 34 chapters across 17 countries.
Numerous individuals living with disabilities can engage in regular exercise. However, if you are new to exercise, the CDC advises consulting a healthcare professional to determine what is most suitable for you.
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