MIKE GIESCHEN and Steven Schwartz will be easy to recognize during Sunday's 30th annual Blue Cross Broad Street Run. They'll be running "attached." Literally.
Gieschen is blind. He has retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive loss of peripheral vision. During races Gieschen, 50, wears a T-shirt that reads "blind runner."
"We tie a long shoelace around our waists and hold on to it with our hands," Schwartz said. "Mike ties some sort of knot so I can either reel him in or let him go. I'm talking to him all the time, preparing him for curbs and bumps."
Schwartz, 52, and Gieschen met when their sons were in Cub Scouts (Gieschen was an Eagle Scout). They've run several races together.
"Mike is so brave to do this, to run among all these people," Schwartz said. "We've had an accident or two, especially at the beginning when I wasn't so good at being his [guide]. One time, somebody talked to me and Mike stepped on somebody's heels and we all fell down.
"Mike is the friendliest guy you'd want to meet. Of all the runs we've done, the Broad Street Run is head and shoulders above the rest as far as other runners being friendly. They say, 'Way to go,' and, 'You guys are an inspiration.' Sometimes, they'll run with us and tell us their stories."
Gieschen agreed, saying, "The people are fantastic, very encouraging."
Schwartz always makes sure that Gieschen gives Gov. Rendell a high-five near City Hall.
Gieschen and Schwartz are Downington residents who are married with children. Schwartz is a research chemist.
Gieschen was a graphic artist before he began losing his sight in his 30s. The Methacton High graduate ran three marathons. He knew it was time to stop running alone when he ran into a ladder on a truck during a race. Then, during his final solo race, in Cape May, N.J., he ran into a steel gate and bruised his ribs.
Gieschen takes weekly "Form in Art" sculpting classes at the Art Museum. The artwork by the visually disabled will be on display at the museum next month.
Since Gieschen's seeing-eye dog died, he doesn't run outside much. He runs on a treadmill and lifts weights.
Gieschen encourages disabled people to pursue active lifestyles.
"It's important for disabled people to keep a positive attitude, have self-confidence, to set goals and meet them," he said. "Being physically fit and eating right are important."
Laughing, Gieschen then said: "After the race, we typically go to South Street for cheesesteaks. After we do our healthy thing, we probably do the most unhealthy thing we can do."
They've earned a "runners gone wild" experience. *
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