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Leading the Way

Leading the way


Words: Melanie Ho


Kim Gyeong Su leads blind competitor

Song Kyung Tae through

RacingThePlanet: Namibia 2009


Far after most of the field had reached camp for the evening, Song Kyung Tae (South Korea) and Kim Gyeong Su (South Korea) walked crossed the Stage 2 finish line, tired and exhausted, the night sky full of stars.   They sat at the main campsite, beside each other in silence, with Kim assisting Song, who is blind, with his food.   They ate, made some more soup and Kim urged Song to have some more.   They went of to their tent to rest for the next stage.   


Neither Song nor Kim, who is Song’s guide for RacingThePlanet: Namibia 2009, are new to RacingThePlanet.   Song is the first blind person to complete all 4 Deserts, while Kim has completed the Gobi March (China) 2005 and the Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2006.   However, this is their first partnership together, one that 4 Deserts veteran Jesse Yoo (South Korea) describes as a “wonderful partnership, one that looks like they have done this many times before.”


Kim and Song’s challenge is a difficult one.   On Stage 1 of the race, the two struggled as they went through Fish River Canyon.   Particularly troublesome, was getting down the canyon and then back up again.   The two fell many times.


“It was really amazing how Song just knew what to do,” volunteer Mark Hansen (United States) said of the pair during Stage 1.   “At the top of the ladder they put one of his hands on the rope and the other on someone’s arm and told him just to keep climbing and get himself on the ledge.   On the ledge they gave him a rope to follow and then when he got to my point, he got hold of both ropes and they told him what to do and he started stepping up the stones just like he could see.”


Song has prepared for this race by climbing in the mountains, jogging with his dog and walking on the treadmill in his home.   


The two speak all the time, in constant communication.   Kim pointed to a sore throat, but laughed just the same.   He said he signed up to do the race because he likes to guide blind runners.   


“I enjoy sharing it together, it’s a very beautiful place, we just talk, and I lead and carry him.”


Kim speaks about everything, about how the stones feel, where they’re placed and what the mountains look like.   Song listens and tries to imagine what he is seeing.   Song lost his eyesight at age 20 during a military accident.


“There are so many rocks compared to the other races.   It’s difficult to walk, to find the pace, but we always talk,” Song said.   “It’s a more natural smell and I can feel the difference.   I can feel the air, smell everything, but I want to see.”


In some ways, Kim’s job is more difficult than Song’s.  In addition to guiding him through the race, Kim is responsible for helping Song in every aspect of camp.  The appreciation doesn’t go unnoticed.


“He does an amazing job,” Song said.  “He’s a very good guide and I am very grateful.”


Not everything is serious between the two.   Though they always talk, it’s not always about what stone is where.   


“We tell so many jokes,” Kim said.   “Sometimes I lie and say there’s a lion and we have to run to escape.”


Song laughed.   “Sometimes I say I want to eat and so we joke that we must find an animal.”

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