Long-distance running is often thought of as a solitary sport. As a running guide for individuals with disabilities, Tyrrell Schmidt thrives on the unbreakable human bonds created during both shorter distance competitions and the approximately 55,000 steps taken during a marathon.
Tyrrell, TD Bank's U.S. Chief Marketing Officer, has enjoyed running long distance for more than 30 years. But her passion increased substantially 8 years ago, when she first volunteered with Achilles International as a guide to runners with disabilities to compete together in marathons, half marathons and other distances.
"I was getting to the point where I'd been running for so long that I needed a change. Yet, I was passionate about staying both physically and mentally healthy," she explained. "With Achilles, I found a way to combine my passion for running with giving back to others. I've run with individuals of all abilities but have tended to guide visually impaired athletes. Being someone's 'eyes' during a race or on a weekend run is just an extraordinary feeling. Most importantly the community that exists with Achilles is like nothing I've ever experienced – I certainly feel like I get more than I give."
Achilles International is a non-profit organization that aims to transform lives of people with disabilities through athletic programs and social connection. This includes pairing athletes of all abilities with guides who are volunteers to participate in runs or races.
It has become a family affair as Tyrrell's husband also serves as a guide, and her two daughters have also guided runners from Achilles.
Tyrrell's enthusiasm about Achilles and its mission motivated her to introduce the organization to TD Bank after she started at the bank nearly seven years ago. Subsequently, TD Bank became the presenting sponsor of the Achilles Hope & Possibility road race in Central Park, one of the largest events globally that encourages the participation of runners of all abilities.
TD and Achilles share a commitment to increasing awareness and inclusion in support of our disability and veterans' communities, which is why the partnership works so well.
Running with a star in Berlin
Most recently, Tyrrell served as a guide to one of Achilles most well-known and beloved participants – Anthony Butler, a visually-impaired runner, who has been the subject of many media reports as he met and fell in love with Jessie Rix, another guide with Achilles. The two have married and are expecting their first child at the end of the year.
Tyrrell and Anthony have run together in several races, and both, having run more than 15 marathons each, have set their sights on completing the six 'world marathons' – one of which is Berlin. They were excited about the opportunity to run that marathon together last month.
"I was excited when Tyrrell said she'd like to run with me in Berlin, since we always have a great time together," Anthony said.
Anthony lost his sight after getting shot in the head on a street corner in the Bronx at the age of 20. At the time of the shooting, he had warrants out for his arrest for skipping court dates. When Anthony woke up in the hospital after his being shot, he was handcuffed to a hospital bed.
After he was told his vision wouldn't come back, he made major changes in his life. Anthony went on to get an undergraduate and master's degree in social work. Today, he is a psychotherapist in North Carolina where he recently moved with his wife from New York City. He also made a commitment to stay in good physical shape and joined Achilles International.
"I didn't know how to be disabled so I decided to start running," he said. "That changed my life. I've traveled all over the world to run marathons, something I never did before."
The inspiration of Anthony's life story is extraordinary to Tyrrell.
"The fact that he chose to go back and get his degrees and to start running after losing his sight is just superhuman," Tyrrell said. "I feel privileged to play a small part in his journey – and enjoy the fun we have running and socializing together."
Tyrrell and Anthony have had ample opportunity on these long runs to speak about many topics, including their families. Tyrrell became a grandmother for the first time recently, and as Anthony will be a first-time father, they shared their feelings and insights about it.
Among the interesting experiences that Tyrrell had in Berlin was learning more about Anthony's perspectives. "Anthony mentioned that he doesn't see people aging," Tyrrell said. "He remembers his friends and family at the age that they were when he last saw them, which is really insightful. He will never know exactly what his wife and baby look like physically. But Anthony's not someone who dwells on the negative – he sees the positive in his situation, which is what makes him so unique."
The road ahead
Last year, Tyrrell was named to her role as TD's U.S. Chief Marketing Officer after she worked for the bank in Toronto. She has recently relocated to New York City, with one of the big motivators being proximity to Central Park where she can participate in the twice-weekly Achilles runs. Tyrrell is particularly looking forward to running with both her old friends from previous events and the opportunities to meet new people.
"Each person has such a different story, but everyone is just so inspiring," she said. "I couldn't be more excited about being able to be more active with Achilles. My advice to anyone who asks is to find something you're passionate about and combine it with giving back to the community. You'll never look back."