Over the weekend, MPR News will follow Laura Sosalla and her guides Natalie Elmore and Rachel Bentley throughout their marathon experience including on the 26.2-mile course from Minneapolis to St. Paul. You can follow along with Laura’s experience through MPRnews.org.
On Sunday morning, 38-year-old Laura Sosalla will stand in a sea of thousands of runners at the starting line of the Twin Cities Marathon outside U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis. By her side will be Natalie Elmore, one of Sosalla’s two guides for the race. Between the two women, a brightly-colored tether that keeps them close enough that they can hear one another on the course.
Elmore’s job for the first 13 miles of the race is to communicate everything along the course to Sosalla, who was declared legally blind in March after months of vision complications following her battle with COVID-19 in November.
The two have been training together for months, along with Rachel Bentley and Laura Brennan. The once predominately solo sport has become one Sosalla can’t do alone, unless she’s on a treadmill and can hold onto the handles next to her.
Bentley will guide Sosalla for the second half of the race, meeting up with runners near Lake Nokomis to switch guides before heading towards the finish line near the capitol in St. Paul.
Sosalla connected with Bentley through an organization called United In Stride, an online database that connects visually impaired runners with sighted guides. Bentley said she created her account in 2019 and communicated with a few women but never actually ran with any of them. Until Sosalla came along.
Bentley and Elmore are sisters, Brennan a neighbor of Sosalla’s mother and step-father. During long runs, the three sighted runners would break up miles to keep a set of fresh legs next to Sosalla, using the bandshell at Lake Harriet as a waiting area until their turn to run came up. For the most part, the group of women looks like any other running group circling the lakes, the tether between Sosalla and her guides is the only indicator of her visual impairment.
Sunday will be Sosalla’s second marathon. She ran the Twin Cities Marathon when she was 21 but said she didn’t commit enough time to training. This time, she’s done the training but will be up against a different challenge — running in a sea of people while focusing on the voice next to her as her guide.
Running has given Sosalla a sense of freedom and empowerment. Something for her to control, to focus on while her world felt uncertain and overwhelming. It also makes her eyes feel better, the added blood flow providing some relief from the constant pressure she has felt since her vision started changing ten months ago.
The women have dubbed themselves the Mediocre Marathoners, setting a goal of finishing the marathon in under five hours. For Sosalla, the race itself is so much bigger than the miles she will put in. It’s a reminder of how far she’s come, what she’s been able to build on days when it has felt like everything she had is gone.
Laura Sosalla joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer on Morning Edition. Use the audio player above to listen to their full conversation.
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