Hello friends 🙂
I hope everyone is having a great Monday so far! I am so excited to share an incredible story with you today. Christos Zotos, is a runner, a BLIND runner! I connected with him through my coach, Maria Polyzou, and of course I asked him to share his story with us. I have to admit, when I logged in to my email the other day, and started reading his story I had tears in my eyes… It is incredible to see what humans are capable of when we want something really bad… It is amazing to see how far someone’s hopes, dreams and sheer will power may take him! I believe Christos should be an inspiration, an example for all of us! Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share your story, Christos!
I really hope his story will “touch” you as much as it touched me…
Q: How did you decided to start running and when was that?
A: I loved running since I was a teenager. Running made me feel at peace and offered me a sense of balance. There is nothing better than running by the sea or in a forest no matter the weather. But running became an integral part of my life in 2001, when I was 41 years old and I turned blind! When this happened to me I lost interest in living my life and I got depressed. I refused to get out of my house for about 6 months and I became overweight at 297 lbs (135kg). After an intervention from family members and friends, I started looking into running for people with disabilities and I discovered that it was yet again possible for me to do something I loved so much, running! I started very slow, in January of 2002, with some walking and later on running. When I made it I felt like my love for running kept me alive and that running gave me my life back! “RUNNING IS LIFE”!
Q: When and where your first race took place? Will you please share your feelings with us?
A: My first race was in August of 2002, in a championship among different running clubs from all around Greece and Cyprus. I competed at 5k and came first with a PB of 23’40’’.
During my stay there and and on our way to the race track I felt great, everyone was in high spirits and we were all teasing each others (especially about our weight and the fact that we can see, by then I was 185 lbs (84 kg). But then when we started warming up for the race I started feeling different. My legs felt heavy, I started to get chills, and I could barely contain my tears. I could see my whole life since I lost my eyesight like a movie, the depression, all the negative feelings that I had about life, and how I started – very slowly – to come back to life… It felt like I fought and took my life back! But you know what? The moment the race started, everything disappeared, the moment I crossed the start line I felt like I was flying and my feet weren’t touching the ground. It felt like a lion woke up inside of me… My guide became worried because we were going way to fast and he tried to hold me back. But I was unstoppable, the more my own people, friends and family were cheering for me and the more I could here their voices the faster I would run. I felt like I HAD to finish, I HAD to win this bet that I’d set with myself, with my life! I felt like I could do it, that I was capable of not only finishing the race, but also winning, I had the willpower and strength to do it, I just knew it. AND I DID IT! I didn’t just finish and won a race that day, but I reclaimed my entire life back! I had to tell you the smile on my face lasted for hours… I was so proud of myself! Of course, I am fully aware that this wouldn’t be possible without all the people that supported me in this venture and especially my amazing wife who has been supporting me unconditionally since the beginning till this very day.
Q: Share with us some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a blind runner.
A: One of my biggest challenges since I was a kid, was to cross the finish line of a marathon race. I always had the outmost respect for marathon runners, and I ‘ve always considered them heroes! But I never dared to think the possibility of me ever running a marathon, just by the thought I was terrified… That was one of the biggest challenges, to run 26.2 miles with someone else’s eyes as your own… But despite all the fear, I geared up with discipline, patience, stubbornness (if you will…) which are all features that a marathon runner needs to have and decided to go for it!!! I crossed the finishing line of the “Great Alexander Marathon” in Thessaloniki in April of 2006. If there is one thing that I learnt is that we can achieve anything we want if we have the will power to go for it, and that we can push ourselves to the limits! Actually, “there are NO limits, they are nothing but your mind’s creation to limit you…”!
Q: How do you choose your guide? And for how long do you need to train together prior to a big upcoming race?
A: Initially I don’t get to choose, since any help is purely on a volunteering basis, but after a long time of being a runner people get to know me and they come to realize how important help is to me and many people want to offer their help and support. This is how I then decided who will be a better match in order to achieve an optimal result in the race.
We have a separate training plans and we match a few practices a week, and this goes on for 2,4,6 months or as long as it is necessary in order to be fully prepped for the race.
Q: I can imagine there is a very special bond between you and your guide…
A: Yes of course, it is a very special relationship between us. Even though we are only connected with a small piece of string tied around our wrists, in reality we are creating a bond that will last for a lifetime. The guide’s help towards me is invaluable and thought daily contact there is a strong friendship created. Through this person’s eyes and guidance I am able to achieve a personal goal, and make a dream come true. It is though his eyes and his words that I am able to see and perceive the world around me.
Q: What is the crowd’s reaction whenever they see you at an event, a practice run or a race?
A: Everybody is whole-heartedly cheering for me, and I can feel the people’s admiration for what I do and what I have accomplished though all these cheering, but also through talking to people. But honestly, in my opinion, I don’t feel like I am doing anything different or special… I am doing exactly what all my fellow runners are doing with a … slightly different approach to it. When you truly love something, and if you want it bad enough, you WILL FIND A WAY to achieve it!
Q: Where do you usually train?
A: I am usually training in the gym and in the track. I am currently part of two teams. One is the team of people with disabilities and also I am honoured to be a part of the Marathon Team Greece by Maria Polyzou.
My fellow runners and my coach, Maria Polyzou, have become an integral part of my life and they support me on all my goals and in every practice, not only on the track but even running on the road!
Q: Of course I couldn’t not ask about your beautiful dog guide. Please tell us about this amazing friendship between you and her.
A: Oh but of course. Her name is Melita and she is a beautiful 4 year old blonde Labrador. She came into my life in September of 2013 and since then I felt like I got my eyesight back through her. She IS my eyes! Since day one she showed me that I can trust her completely and that she is capable of guiding me everywhere. I feel extremely safe with her. She is my very best friend and both my wife and I love her so much, she is our baby and definitely an irreplaceable member of our family.
Q: So what about the future, what are your plans for future races? I hope will get to see you at the authentic Athens marathon!
A: Yes, of course I will be there in November. I have already begun my training since this is one of the most challenging marathons in the world! My first goal is to cross the finish line and then hopefully a PB. Of course I always have my amazing coach by my side, Maria Polyzou. Now, one more goal that I’d like to achieve is to one day run an ultramarathon, 50, 60km, maybe more… and I’d like to run for a a cause. I ‘d like to run for children that they are fighting cancer. I am still working on this, and when the thought matures in my mind will plan it out with my coach. What I wish for is for me to be healthy, and able to KEEP Running!
What I represent is very important to me. Disable people should not be left alone, they should be out there living life to the fullest like everyone else! Having a disability doesn’t mean someone can’t do something… it merely means that it has to be done in a different way! I owe it to myself and all the people who are looking up to me to keep fighting and never give up! All the help I get from my guides shows the world that there are still people who unconditionally care out there… And you know what? Only if there is love in our hearts we will manage to progress as a community and as individuals.
What I am trying to do is spread positive vibes, especially nowadays, when are country is facing so many challenges, I feel it is my responsibility (like everyone elses’) to offer and spread around only “LOVE”, “HAPPINESS” and help people to be optimistic about life!
BEING DIFFERENT IS WHAT BRINGS PEOPLE TOGETHER!