Sea Urchins

She had a poster hung for inspiration and a list on her nightstand for motivation. It was the USA Track & Field, All American qualifying standards for her age group. As a masters runner she knew it was reachable. It was hers and she wanted it. But then, without any warning, she started seeing them.

She first saw them in 2015 and described them as ‘black swooshy things’. They were dark spots that swooshed through her field of vision to distort everything. She wasn’t sure if there was something there or she was the only one to see it. But to her they were very real. She called them sea urchins.  

That January, Kathleen Rogan suffered a spontaneous, retinal detachment with multiple tears in her right eye and a few months later, the same happened to her left eye. Her vision narrowed. Every stride was questioned. Every road seemed uneven. The sea urchins seemed everywhere and suddenly, Kathleen’s running was stopped dead in its track.  

She would need surgery. It was tough and the rehab was grueling. It was weeks of alternately raising and lowering her head every 30 minutes. But more than that it was scary. What would the road ahead look like?

Kathleen grew up in Scotia, NY and today lives in Kingston, NY. She has a degree in theater from Skidmore College and spent many years as a teaching artist, providing professional arts education to homeless and at-risk children.

Growing up she wasn’t involved in sports but fell in love with the dance and aerobics fitness movement of the late 70’s and early 80’s. She became a certified instructor for many years and began running at the age of 44.

She first started running to support her autistic son, Travis, who felt uncomfortable running alone. She ran with him and her passion for running grew. She continued to run for him and her daughter Donna. She ran to inspire and teach them personal accomplishment, dedication and perseverance.  

Running has given Kathleen so much. She’s asthmatic and after years of running her pulmonary health has improved greatly. She’s served as a Girls On The Run Coach for several years, helping young girls to develop healthy self-esteem and coping skills. In 2013, she joined the IRUN4 Program that connects healthy runners with a buddy and Kathleen runs for a beautiful, young girl named Meg who has Down’s syndrome.  

Kathleen’s also a therapy dog handler and through Therapy Dogs International, is certified with her dog, Natalie, to work together in schools, hospitals, nursing homes and with hospice patients.

Today, Kathleen is running again but she never runs alone. She runs with a guide from Achilles International, an organization whose mission is to enable people with disabilities to participate in running events. They run together. Side by side and race by race. They ran together in the 2016 NYC Marathon. They ran together in Freihofer’s 5K Run for Women last month. They’ll always run together.

Kathleen’s vision may be impaired but she clearly sees what her running and her life need to be about. It’s about motivating others to overcome their own struggles. It’s about helping children. Community service. And it’s about advocating for the disabled.  

The sea urchins may still be there but her fear has passed. There’s a new poster for inspiration. There’s a new wall of photos with her sports role models and a wall with awards and medals. Every day they serve as reminder. They remind her that despite the odds, despite the setbacks and despite her disability, she will fight on.