Richard & Klinger
- Allison Hartz
“My dog Klinger is a pioneer.”
The same could be said of Richard Hunter, a blind endurance athlete who has made it his life’s work to encourage blind athletes to participate in sports and other activities that push the limits of their comfort zone. His guide dog Klinger was the first graduate of Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s Running Guides Program in 2015. As part of a pilot project, Klinger demonstrated that training a guide dog to run was good for both the runner and the dog.
At age 22 and recently commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marines, Richard was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a rare genetic disorder that breaks down the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye and leads to vision loss over time. By the time he was in his thirties, Richard had lost the majority of his vision. He began volunteering at Society for the Blind and became inspired by the visually impaired people he met who were traveling and going on adventures, and leading professional and family lives.
Richard found his passion through running and expanding opportunities for blind athletes. First, he ran a marathon. Then he qualified for the Boston Marathon. In 2007, he asked the California International Marathon to add a visually impaired division. They did, and in 2009, Richard helped bring the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes National Marathon Championships to the California International Marathon.
He didn’t stop there. Richard completed 18 marathons, including four Boston Marathon finishes, three 50-milers, and he was the second visually impaired runner in the United States to complete a 100-mile run. He also completed an Iron Man triathlon with the assistance of human guides in under 12 hours.
In 2013, while on a cycling training ride with a human guide, Richard was hit by a car. He went through the windshield was life-flighted to the hospital with a broken neck. His family feared for him and his daughter Lindsey asked him to get a guide dog. Up until now, Richard had dismissed the idea of getting a guide dog, because running with a guide dog was not allowed.
Nine months later, Richard returned to the Boston Marathon, where he met with Guiding Eyes for the Blind CEO, Tom Panek, and discussed the idea of running with guide dogs. One year later, Richard was paired with Klinger, the first-ever guide dog trained to run with a blind athlete.
Richard is passionate about networking and growing the resources for the visually impaired community, and his impact is making a difference. He and Klinger helped test Ruffwear’s UniFly™ Harness, a guide dog harness designed for all users – including runners. In 2018, forty-five runners participated the California International Marathon in the visually impaired division, including Richard.
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