Friendly Fridays: Running with Achilles’ athletes

28 Jul, 2017 – Posted by Nana Quainoo

Umeshaa Pararajasingham is a Policy Analyst with the Licensing and Policy Branch, below is her account of the volunteer work she does with Achilles International’s Toronto chapter.

Umeshaa Pararajasingham, a ministry employee and Achilles volunteer, guides athletes with disabilities to run long distances. She is pictured with an Achilles athlete after a run.

I am a runner and I run as a guide for people with disabilities as part of Achilles’ International’s Toronto chapter. However, it wasn’t always that way.

One Saturday morning in the late summer of 2015 I worked up my nerve and showed up at the Beaches’ parking lot by Lake Shore Blvd E. and Northern Dancer Blvd, one of the Toronto chapter’s regular meets. I was nervous. I wasn’t a “runner.” I wasn’t even a graceful person. The furthest I had run was 10k with (very) regular walking breaks. I wasn’t an endurance athlete.

But the athletes and guides took me in as I was and coached me into guiding for distances of up to 32k with no walking breaks. Now I’m there nearly every Saturday morning of the year. I became a part of something bigger.

Achilles provides a way for athletes with disabilities to be active, build self-esteem and be a part of a community. It breaks down barriers between able-bodied people and people with disabilities. It helps create a richer, more inclusive world.

Who is “guiding” who?

The athletes I guide have visual impairments, which can mean that I run beside them, matching my pace to theirs and call out obstacles on the road (e.g., “Low speed bump in 3, 2, 1) or that I run with a tether held in one of each of our hands, using both it and verbal signals to communicate the terrain between discussing more important topics such as last night’s dinner or a new movie. We also have athletes who experience mental health challenges or have other physical disabilities, such as amputations.

I can’t tell you the strength of the athletes’ and guides’ courage, humility, compassion. They run ultra-marathons (more than a 42 km marathon or a 100 km trail race). They run in all weather conditions (-30 degrees Celsius and the August heat don’t stop them). They run and/or walk from distances of less than four km to more than 42 km. Almost always they continue to enjoy each other’s company over brunch. They show up and are there for each other. We are there for each other. It’s a community.

When I was first presented with the idea of writing about Achilles, I was shy to share this intimate and important part of me. Then I realized it was an opportunity to spread awareness, encourage funding for athletes’ goals/races and extend an invitation to anyone who wants to be a part of the Achilles’ community. Athletes and guides are welcome. Walking guides are particularly needed. No distance is too short. No pace too slow. Check out; choose how you want to support us; and connect with us.

Background on Achilles:

Achilles International was founded in New York City in 1983 by an amputee marathoner, Richard (Dick) Traum. Achilles has since grown to more than 140 chapters on six continents.

Brian McLean who is both visually and hearing impaired established Achilles Canada in June of 1999.

Achilles provides the unique support and training to runners, walkers and wheelers of all levels. With the assistance of volunteer instructors/guides, the Achilles athletes participate in weekly clinics to help them reach their goals.

A strong support system of able-bodied volunteers provides additional confidence and support during such workouts and at races. Many of the Achilles athletes go on to run in internationally renowned marathons such as the New York City Marathon, Boston Marathon and both the Scotiabank Waterfront and Toronto Marathons.

Visit Achilles International Canada for more information. Thank you.

Stories like there are amazing!

If you have stories about your experiences training, learning or participating in specific event, we would love to hear from you!

Just send us a quick email and we will share it with all our Achilles athletes in our Newsletter and on the Website.

Or if you are thinking about running a specific race, check out our past athlete stories and see what others have said and what types of experiences other have shared.

Just send your stories to Brian at

Scotia Bank Half Marathon

Harvest Valley 50k Ultra


Queen City Marathon in Regina

Ottawa Marathon Race

Achilles St. Patrick’s Day Race

I just finished reading the story about Lisa. Amazing! Inspirational! I was sitting here thinking about running, all the training, and my times, and I was feeling a bit down because I don’t know if I’m going to be able to crack the time that I want, nursing a couple of injuries and I was really feeling the pressure. I read her story, she put everything in perspective. It was a wonderful read, I still have tears in my eyes as I send this message.
Achilles Athlete Ary
Thank you for sharing your story. I cannot tell you how powerful it is to read of your strength, perseverance, and attitude. Thanks for speaking out on overcoming being victimized by body-shaming, as well. These are the stories we need to be talking about more.
Achilles Athlete Umeshaa