The USA Blind Athletes National Championships return to the California International Marathon this year with its largest field and a growing reputation as a destination event for visually impaired athletes.
A field of 51 is expected for the seventh annual USABA National Marathon Championships, part of the 33rd annual CIM on Dec. 6.
The CIM, a 26.2-mile test from Folsom to the state Capitol, is put on by the Sacramento Running Association.
This yearís field includes combat-blinded veterans, U.S. Paralympic athletes, world champions, a three-time USABA National Marathon champion and five international athletes.
"The California International Marathon has a great reputation across the country and internationally as a premier destination for visually impaired runners to come run a marathon," said Folsomís Richard Hunter, a visually impaired runner who helps coordinate the USABA event for the CIM.
"The Sacramento Running Association has done everything it possibly can to make it a VIP experience."
The CIM features a heated tent near the start and a tent in the finish area for visually impaired runners to gather. The event will also offer a prize purse for the visually impaired division, a first for a marathon run in the United States.
The total prize purse for the visually impaired division is $3,500 with $1,000 going to both the top men and womenís finishers.
"The Sacramento Running Association continues to lead its peers by becoming the first marathon in the United States to offer prize money for a visually impaired division, which has added additional incentive for visually impaired runners to push it to the next level," said Hunter.
Aaron Scheidies, three-time winner of the USABA National Marathon Championships, is back in 2015 competing in the marathon after taking part in the CIM Relay Challenge in 2014. The Seattle resident currently holds the fastest marathon time for an active visually impaired athlete in the United States. He ran a 2:44 in Boston in 2013 and holds the CIM visually impaired division record with a 2:48. In addition to his exploits on the roads, Aaron is a nine-time world champion triathlete and will represent the United States on the Paralympic Cycling Team in 2016 in Rio.
"I am excited to be back for my fourth USABA Blind/Visually Impaired National Championship at CIM. This year is different than past years as I am preparing for the 2016 Rio Paralympics Games in Para-Cycling and have done very little run training," said Scheidies. "There are some very fast blind runners coming and to honest, I am considering myself a dark horse this year."
Donald Balcom of Hollywood, Md., the 2015 Boston Marathon Blind/Visually Impaired Division Champion, and Jason Romero from Denver, the 2014 USABA Marathon Champion, should challenge Scheidies for the menís title.
Amy Kelley of Columbia, Sc., overall womenís winner of the 2011 Flying Pig Marathon and a 2:49-marathoner (CIM, 2011) heads the womenís visually impaired field. Amelia Dickerson from Boulder, Co., a 3:21-marathoner, hopes to challenge Kelley for the title.
Chaz Davis (Grafton, Ma.), a legally blind runner competing at the Division I level at the University of Hartford and 2016 Paralympic hopeful, will team up with Folsomís Michael Kinoshita in a two-person effort to break the 2-hour, 30-minute mark in the Bank of the West CIM Relay Challenge.
"The Sacramento Running Association is proud to play host to the USABA Marathon National Championships for the seventh straight year," CIM race director Eli Asch said. "We believe that providing competitive opportunities to athletes such as Charles "Chaz" Davis as they pursue Paralympic dreams is a privilege, and that supporting veterans who lost their sight while serving their country, as many of our USABA athletes did, is an honor."
Eleven of the 51 visually impaired participants are U.S. veterans including Robert Dale Stamper, President of the National Blinded Veterans Association and a Vietnam veteran wounded by a land mine, who will be competing in the CIM Relay Challenge.
"These athletes show us that a healthy lifestyle doesn't have to end with vision-loss or any other obstacle. They're inspiring, and in many cases, they're also fierce competitors," said Asch.
The CIM first allowed visually impaired runners in its field in 2007, with the USABA Championships beginning its partnership with the CIM in 2009.
This yearís field includes 26 marathoners and 25 relay participants. Another 10 visually impaired runners are expected to participate in the 2.62-mile UC Davis Childrenís Hospital MaraFUNrun.
The USABA Championships are sponsored by Non-24.
The CIM is put on by the Sacramento Running Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding ways to encourage people of all ages and abilities to run. The SRA is committed to developing new, quality running events that appeal to a broad variety of runners.
Other SRA events include the California Family Fitness Super Sunday Run on February 7, the Credit Union SACTOWN Run on April 3 and the Gold Rush 50k on May 14.