It started off as a chance encounter on the street – and progressed into friendship.
Aaron first noticed Benjamin when he was walking to work. Benjamin stood out from other pedestrians because he was using a white cane.
“I walk to work and first noticed him walking a regular route around the same time each day so I assumed he was going to work, likely to VisionCorps,” said Aaron, a city resident who works downtown in city government.
“I reached out to VisionCorps to find out more. I asked about volunteering – and said I wanted to volunteer with a specific individual – Benjamin.”
Once he was approved as a volunteer and went through training, Aaron was matched with Benjamin Brenya, assistive technology specialist for VisionCorps. They would meet for lunch or talk on the phone.
“At first, he might call me to come over to help with a specific need. When it was finished, he didn’t seem interested in hanging out. He’s extremely independent.”
It took some time before they became close.
Benjamin soon began talking to Aaron about running, and how he started running in high school and used to run regularly in Ghana, where he completed four marathons. He stopped running when he moved to the U.S. in 2019.
They decided to try running together with Aaron acting as his sighted guide. They use a tether and run on the track at Franklin & Marshall College. Aaron was apprehensive at first.
“I’m not the most graceful person; my wife calls me Smash,” said Aaron, “so I worried that this could be ugly.”
It turned out fine. After they learned to pace themselves, the running went well.
Benjamin said he appreciated the opportunity to “get back to my normal and do sports again.”
“We try to run together every week now,” said Benjamin. “I used to run 5Ks in Ghana but I stopped running. It’s great to run again.
“My stamina is down, but I’m starting to run more,” said Benjamin. “When we run together, I control the speed and pace. Aaron does the guiding and directions.”
Benjamin compared it to how horses respond to a harness. “When we approach a curve, he just turns normally and I can follow. I know he is turning.”
“His touch was so natural that it was completely normal for me to guide him and him to keep running with me,” said Aaron.
The two have time to talk while they are running.
Aaron learned about Benjamin’s ability to adjust to new situations.
“I’m fascinated by him – for reasons beyond his vision impairment,” said Aaron. “For him to come here from another country, live in a different culture, and use his knowledge and competency with technology is amazing.”
When the two are not running, they are trying out another mode of recreation – bicycling.
Benjamin asked Aaron if he’d like to ride a tandem bike together. Once they found a tandem bike, they started riding it. They look for trails and have enjoyed riding on the Rail Trail.
“He is always happy and it’s contagious,” said Aaron. “After spending time together, I feel happy!”
NOTE: If you or someone you know has low vision and is interested in running, let us know. VisionCorps has volunteers interested in becoming running partners. Call 717-205-4141.