Meet The Athletes

Guide Wil Santi (on left) with Athlete Paula Hosmer (on right) and Drafus (dog) behind her Paula Hosmer

This my 70th year upon the earth. In 1969 I became an RN, and in 1970 became a diabetic. After practicing for twenty years I lost usable vision and I thought a meaningful life. Once I recovered a useful outlook I studied to become an Occupational Therapy Assistant. In Nashville, however, I couldn’t find a job. I joined the Nashville chapter of the American Council of the Blind. This eventually led me to Achilles. I enjoy walking with Achilles, and participating in several of the races. My favorite is the Hope and Possibility® race. Dreyfus (my Guidedog, also 70 in human years) can join me in this one-mile walk!

Lauren Kollinger (on left) with Carol Francisco (on right)Carol Francisco

I am a blind senior citizen who always thought that being an athlete required sight.  Back when I went to school, blind kids were kept out of gym classes for fear of being hurt.  Several years ago I was injured in a serious accident, and as I developed arthritis and some trouble walking, I knew I had to do something.  I will never be a runner, and probably will always walk slowly, but with hard work and the encouragement of Achilles guides, I have completed a few 5K’s.  My time was slow, over an hour, but I did something I never thought I could do and it felt wonderful.  I hope other blind adults, especially those who lost vision later in life, will try Achilles as it could increase their self-confidence.

Rachel Boehrer (on left) with Annie Donnell (on right)Annie Donnell

My name is Annie Donnell, and I am a sophomore at Belmont University. I just started running with Achilles three weeks ago. I love it, and I am so glad I found such a great group of people. I was on my school’s track team all four years in high school, and I wanted to find a group to be a part of because I missed running. When I run, I do not think about anything. It has been so nice to feel the breeze, and run with a guide again. I am excited to participate in my first 5K with Achilles next weekend. I look forward to many more practices and races with Achilles.

Athlete Dwaine Jones (on left) with Alex Mimlitz (on Right)Dwaine Jones

My name is Dwaine Jones, I’m a low vision athlete and I’m a graduate of the 2010 class of the Tennessee School for the Blind (TSB). I have been a part of Achilles Nashville since 2013 and I have walked/run in intervals over the last year after just walking with Achilles guides for 3 years before that. I have come from a very hard weight loss challenge since the day I stepped on the scales and they said 336 lbs. I had struggled for 4 years to get my feet to not lock up stopping me from running.  My 2016 with Achilles was amazing as I prepared for my first ever Half Marathon in downtown Nashville.  My experience with Achilles has been a great experience and I think the organization has a great idea and vision to help the athletes getting paired up with guides so they can safely accomplish competing in races throughout on all levels. Each and every guide from Achilles has their own specialties apart from their amazing guidance during the run weekly, and I believe this is another great part of Achilles because you get to witness and experience and share the journey with people that are different from myself and other athletes. Outside of my running with Achilles, I am with the Tennessee Association of Blind  Athletes and we work to promote adaptive sports throughout the state of Tennessee. I am very proud to be a part of Achilles.

Mickey Mouse (on left) with Chassity Choate (on right)Chassity Choate

My name is Chassity and I joined Achilles in the middle of 2015. I have had a good time since coming to Achilles. When I first came, I was nervous because I didn’t know anyone. My first guide was Nora Dixon and she was a blast. My second guide was Allison Brooks and I have gotten to know her a lot. I really enjoy that. We trained for the Disney Half Marathon together. It was in Orlando, Florida and it was so much fun. We saw Mickey and Minnie Mouse and Brian Evanko from Cigna joined us. I’m glad for all the people that I have met and they have all helped me with my running, my pace, my speed, especially Allison. She really knows about running, she’s done lots of races. I’m so glad I joined Achilles and have gotten to do races. I’m training for my second half marathon now, it will be in Disney too, but in California.  I will run with Klare, she is so sweet and so nice, and like Allison, I have really gotten to know her. We encourage each other. My other friend Amanda is new to Achilles, and she’s doing good on her running and I’m glad that we get to train together. I’m just happy that I have met so many running buddies and made friends and have such good communication with them all. We are always telling each other “good job”. I hope one day I can be a good guide for Achilles, I will need some training on that. I hope you like my story and I hope you enjoy.

Headshot of Stephanie ZundelStephanie Zundel

I am from New Jersey. I am a senior at Vanderbilt University majoring in child studies and minoring in special education and sociology. At the age of three, I went blind due to a severe allergic reaction to Children’s Motrin. I ended up getting a sickness called Stevens Johnson Syndrome (SJS). SJS is a condition where the immune system turns on itself and burns the body from the inside out. Although blindness can sometimes be a pain, it has not stopped me from anything I set my mind and heart to. Ever since I was a little kid, I always loved participating in sports and athletic activities. I have been doing boxing since I was ten years old. I have a junior and senior black belt in white tiger kempo. Running is something I got into pretty recently. During my sophomore year of college, my roommates signed up for the Country Music half marathon. I was not very good at running at all. I could barely run one mile, but I begrudgingly agreed. During my training, I met a friend at a convention I went to for the National Federation of the Blind and she told me about Achilles. I thought it sounded like an awesome organization, so I decided to join. Achilles is a running group for people with disabilities. Since then, I have done many races including 5Ks, 10Ks, 15Ks, and half marathons. In November 2016, I ran my first marathon in New York City. It was thrilling to have the opportunity torun the New York marathon. I qualified for the Boston Marathon there and will run Boston in 2017. Achilles has been such a huge part of my life. The volunteer guides don’t treat the athletes any differently because they have disabilities. The athletes also support the volunteer guides in return, helping guides new to running reach new goals and new distances. The community is extremely supportive, and the other athletes have been instrumental in inspiring me toward my running goals.

Ricky Jones ( on left) Carrie Redmon (on right)Ricky Jones

At age 36, Ricky Jones finds himself well accomplished and proud of his life up to this point. A father of 3 (2 boys and a daughter), a successful hardworking student attending Nashville State Community College pursuing a degree in Business Management, an accomplished athlete participating in Bowling, Cycling, Goalball, and Running, with a local running group called Achilles International Nashville. Ricky has competed in several regional and national competitions in Goalball and Bowling, and has completed 2 Full New York City Marathons in 2014 and 2015, along with numerous half marathons and 5ks. One of his greatest accomplishments as an adult has been re-establishing the TN Association of Blind Athletes in 2009, where he served as Executive Director and President of the Board of Directors until January of 2016. He currently serves as the President of his local Nashville Sports Club. Ricky enjoys meeting the challenges of life, alongside his best friend and fiancé, Christy Ray, whom he met through TNABA and she now serves as the President of the Board of Directors.

Through his work with TNABA, and that of many others, TNABA has grown to serve hundreds of blind and visually impaired children, adults, and veterans around the state. TNABA has 3 sports clubs, Nashville, Memphis, and Clarksville, offering over 8 adaptive sports and recreational activities, and partnerships with other like programs to expand even more opportunities. Ricky has also served or currently serves on several community advisory boards & nonprofits, such as; the MTA APAC Advisory Committee, TN Association of Guide Dog Users (TAGDU), and has helped the Disability Service’s office at Nashville State to ensure their website and student materials are accessible for people using screen reader software, to name a few.

Ricky himself is totally blind, though he was born legally blind with 20/400 vision. From birth, he was diagnosed with Stigmatism, Nystagmus, and Anorexia, which were all hereditary. During his senior year of high school at Oak Ridge High School in East TN, he developed Vascular Graphing or blood vessels growing across the front of the cornea of his eyes. A failed surgery left him with no vision in his left eye since that point in 1999, and slowly since that time has developed Glaucoma and lost all remaining vision in his right eye, with the majority of it being lost in the last two years. Now that Ricky has accepted who he is and the stumbling block of blindness, he tries each day to help others live their life to its fullest, through the joys of sports and recreation.

Ricky reflects that “most people say, you must really love running to complete two full marathons. But I really started out doing the first one as marking something off my bucket list.” Ricky says that his Achilles Nashville family and extended family around the country makes running enjoyable and “empowers me to be a normal athlete out there running the same race as a person with full sight.” Ricky says that he has many wonderful moments while running with Achilles. Picking a favorite moment between; racing his fiancé Christy around the greenway to see who would do the dishes for the next week, and her and her guide taking a wrong turn, ending up at a dead end at a fence. Not wanting to give up the race against Ricky, so she jumps the fence and coming back on to the greenway just in front of him at the last turn, to win. Or, crossing the finish line of his first full marathon in New York, after struggling through a fractured fifth metatarsal and torn ligament in his left foot, which forced him to have to walk the last 8 miles. “The tears just ran out of me, which was surprising because I did not figure there was anything left in me! I was so tired!” Returning the next year to New York once again to improve his time, Ricky says was just as emotional. “I hit my wall at mile 16, and did not think I had enough left in the tank to finish. But with the encouragement of my guides Brandon and Amy I got through it. Brandon had everyone on the Queens bridge cheering LETS GO RICKY, and Amy was right there beside me telling me I can do it! I can never tell you how much that meant!” Ricky tells everyone he talks to about Achilles, the wonderful guides that truly are friends and even are considered family. The freedom to be able to compete against himself is so wonderful and without the financial and emotional support that Achilles gives, “I could never have accomplished as much as I have not only in my athletic journey, but my life long journey”.

Ricky plans to continue to achieve milestones with his running. His goal is to complete a “Small Peter Pressman” running a half marathon in every one of the 50 states. And, possibly, even run another full one or two. “Training is hard and man I just cannot make myself get up so early on Saturdays to train those long runs, but deep inside me, I want to run Boston.” Whatever the journey, whatever twisted paths may turn, and no matter the height of the hills he may have to climb, Ricky is certain that he can accomplish whatever comes his way with the help and support of Achilles International Nashville!

Guide Amanda Hachey behind Athlete Sara Solomon in handcycle at Geist Half MarathonSara Solomon

Sara Solomon “Lizzy” has been coming to Achilles since August 2012. When Sara started Achilles, she used her reverse walker; she did 5ks where she was always the first to start and the last to finished, but she always had the most fun. About a year ago, Sara began training using the handcycle. She has blossomed using this form of movement, and just finished her first half marathon in Houston. Sara has received the Power to Inspire recognition through Fleet Feet Sports/Mizuno for the past two years by inspiring people with disabilities to become more active. She won the Athlete of the Year Award from the Tennessee Association of Blind Athletes in 2016.  Sara studied Web Design and Business at Lipscomb University and Nashville State Community College and has served on the Achilles Hope & Possibility Race Committee. She has a passion for seeing people reach their full potential. She has recently taken on the Co-Assistant Director position and is excited about her new role with Achilles. Through this avenue, she hopes to reach even more people in the greater Nashville area.

Theresa holding medal and water after Rock and Roll MarathonTheresa Khayyam 

Theresa started running with Achilles in 2012, 5 years ago. She used to watch the runners run through Shelby Park during the country music marathon, and she always told herself that she wanted to run it someday. She lost her vision in 2010, and decided that she was going to run it anyways! Theresa joined a gym and started expressing her desires to run a marathon to people there. She was put in touch with Ricky Jones, who was executive director of TNABA at the time, and he put her in touch with Sarah Hart. Sarah told Theresa that she could be the first athlete to sign up for Achilles, and she began running in McCabe. At first she couldn’t run 25 feet, without stopping to catch her breath. She always felt encouraged by everyone at Achilles, and she kept practicing every week. She completed her first half marathon in 2012. Since then, she has run 9 half marathons and 4 full marathons. 2 of the full ones were in NYC, and 2 of the half marathons are at Disney. She would love to qualify for Boston someday! She is a graduate of TN state university with a degree in civil engineering. She did railway design work and utility relocation work.

Athlete Austin Crymes with Guide Rachel BohrerAustin Crymes

Austin has been with Achilles since his physical therapist, Jenna Briggs, told him about it. He has been a member since the first Achilles! He enjoys the friendships that he has made over the years, and also getting some exercise in! Austin has cerebral palsy and uses 2 canes for mobility. He has completed about 10 races over the years, including the Tennessee Titans 5k twice, where all the cheerleaders were at the finish line cheering! This October will be his 3rd Hope and Possibility Race, his first race he completed the 5 miles and started at 5am! This year he will be completing the 1 miler. Austin is a big sports fan, especially football. The Titans are his favorite team. He is also a big music fan, including classic country music like George Jones.

Guide Sam Saloway (on left) Athlete Hannah Anderson (middle) Allie Tearney (on right)

Hannah is in the middle

Hannah Anderson

My name is Hannah Anderson and I’m currently a senior at Vanderbilt University majoring in Disability Studies and Music. Over 5 years ago, illness took over my favorite sport, my favorite pastime, my favorite stress reliever-running! Due to vertigo and weakness, I could barely walk by myself, let alone run, without falling and seriously injuring myself. Adapting to a new life of limited activity was extremely difficult. There were so few physical exercises I could do with my limited mobility, and it was hard to watch as my previously fit and active body degenerated from illness. It was even harder to find outlets for my stress and boredom. I had never realized that running was my way of socializing with others and relaxing until I lost the ability to do it. Fast forward several years to the day I joined the Nashville chapter of Achilles International. My first Achilles practice I was incredibly nervous, with they really be able to help me get back on my feet and running? Was I athletic enough to make this work? I knew Achilles was an organization that helped people with disabilities get out and run, but I wasn’t convinced they couldn’t handle me and my disability! My doubts and fears disappeared, however, the moment I hooked arms with my guide and started to hit the pavement. It really was that simple – all I needed was someone with the knowledge and training to know which adaptations were necessary for me to start running again. Even though my illness and physical disabilities are still present and having some ways worsened over the years, I haven’t stopped running and racing since that first Achilles practice. There’s nothing quite like the freedom of running, and for me, having the support system of Achilles athletes, guides, and coaches makes that freedom possible.

Amy Saffell running the Hope and Possibility RaceAmy Saffell

Amy is the executive director of Able Youth, originally from Atlanta. Several years ago she was at the Country Music Marathon working with Able Youth as a fundraiser for kids participating in the race. She looked at the executive director at the time and said “this is a fun atmosphere, I’d love to get involved in doing races”. He told her about Achilles, saying that they just started. She came the next Wednesday, and it was the 2nd or 3rd time that Achilles ever met. She haven’t missed very many practices since then. There aren’t a lot of sports that individuals with disabilities can do together, and the friendships she has made with people with and without disabilities has been her favorite part. She can be competitive sometimes, but the real reason that she likes Achilles is the friendships. She has one friend who has guided her a bunch named Becky. She signed up for a random 5k near her house, and they couldn’t find any of my regular guides. She asked Becky to run it with me, and they hit it off. Becky is the one who originally convinced Amy to do a half marathon, and she has done 9 since then. She was so encouraging and made Amy realize that she could not only do it, but enjoy it as well.

Since joing Achilles, Amy has travelled to Connecticut, Disney, and more, and loved it all. Whenever she is doing races in town she always sees people that she knows, and its great to have that encouragement. Amy got to do the Hope and Possibility race in New York, and it was really cool to be among their athletes and see how they do their big signature race. It’s just a sea of yellow at the front of central park.

Joe on right with Guide RachelJoe Shaw

Joe is a blind athlete who began running with Achilles 4 years ago. He was 250 pounds, the heaviest he has ever been in his life. His doctor gave him a hug, and said “congratulations on being alive. You should have had a heart attack yesterday”. He asked the doctor what he should do, and he said exercise. He started running with Achilles that week, and couldn’t run 100 yards. They told him they were going to get him to do distance, and he told them it was stupid. He has since completed 2 full marathons, and recently completed his 6th half marathon. His weight has been as low as 208, and he is the healthiest he has been since high school. His doctor told him he has never seen someone come back as far as him.

Joe loves Achilles, and feels like it gives people confidence in themselves, and allows them to do things they never thought they could do. He believes in finding the limits and then passing them. Joe also likes to do CrossFit along with running.