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Volunteer Spotlight: Star Blackford

Just one week ago, our CEO Thomas Panek completed his fifth Boston Marathon, guided by two volunteer guides. Here’s an introduction to Star Blackford, an established ultra-runner and member of the CLIF Pace Team, who guided Tom through the second half of the rainy, windy race. She summed the day up in a recent Facebook post:

Ultra runner Star Blackford
Ultra-runner Star Blackford

Every so often, an unexpected opportunity will magically fall into my lap. So it was about six weeks ago, when I received an email from a colleague at Clif asking me if I might be interested in serving as a “guide” to a visually impaired runner at this year’s Boston Marathon. The runner himself was Thomas (Tom) Panek, the CEO of an amazing organization, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, that is working to train the first set of guide dogs ever prepared specifically for race day conditions.

Being the closeted introvert that I am, I faced three courses of nerves and doubts as race day approached and I got ready to do something out of my comfort zone with a person I had never met. At the heart of that, of course, was the deepest desire to do right by what I had been trusted with – not only another runner’s race, but another human being’s safety and security during that time. If I had thought that runners invested a sacred trust in me as a traditional pace leader, I felt that investment in me tripled knowing that I would be someone’s eyes and safety net.

Star's Race Bib for the Boston Marathon
Star’s race bib for the Boston Marathon

On Saturday morning, I received a call from Tom, and within two minutes, I couldn’t wait to run with him. DB and I met him and Gus briefly that evening, and all that was left was another 13 miles in cold and drenching rain.

Always leave your comfort zone. Always embrace the new and unexpected; even the scary. Tom assured me I was doing a good job; as we clicked off mile after mile, I started to feel like I knew what I was doing, even if I was new to it. But most of all, I felt honored and humbled by the PRIVILEGE to be on that course, in that ridiculous weather, getting to know an extraordinary human being.

Star Blackford & CEO Tom Panek after finishing the Boston Marathon
Star & CEO Thomas Panek after finishing the Boston Marathon

There were all these plans for photo opps and shout-outs to Clif Bar; what happened instead were fits of chills and shaking, finding a break in the security fences to get to a warm building, and then waiting for a member of his PR team to get to us with his warm clothes and a drenched yellow Lab. But in the end, I think this photo does the day the most perfect justice: just two more soggy runners who survived Mother Nature’s spring temper tantrum.

My eternal gratitude to Meaghan Praznik at Clif Bar and Katherine Stein at Guiding Eyes for the Blind for coordinating this endeavor, DB for his constant reassurance, and the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired for taking such amazing care of the guides and runners at the 20K point yesterday.

Some days just fill your heart all the way up. Thanks to everyone, most especially Tom, for trusting me with such a beautiful gift.

Thank you to Star for her incredible support. Welcome to the Guiding Eyes family!