People find love in the most unique places. Perhaps all it takes, sometimes, is to take a different road than you normally would and see where it leads.
Just ask couple Jessie Rix and Anthony Butler, a pair of marathon runners who found their soulmates (each other) while competing—but there is a twist to the story, which is: that Anthony is blind.
Jessie had spent years competing in distance races solo, but in 2016 decided that she wanted to give back to her community at the same time by helping athletes with disabilities.
She discovered Achilles International, whose mission it is to help disabled athletes participate in “mainstream athletics” by partnering them up with individuals and groups that will help them succeed.
That’s where she met Anthony, with whom she paired up with to guide him through races.
Anthony, 30, had been a bystander when he was wounded in a shooting a decade prior and lost his vision as a result.
“I didn’t know what to do. You know, I just lost my confidence,” he admitted of the encounter, which had been random but no less traumatizing than a targeted attack. “I got hit in my face, so I wasn’t sure how I looked. I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to be able to attract a woman or not.”
Devastated by his loss of sight, he turned to running as a way to heal—but before he knew it, his new running guide was helping him heal in her own way.
The pair would spend up to 12 hours a week together training for races, which they explained, is a deeply personal bonding experience.
“[Running is] a very intimate sport,” Butler said. “I mean, you get to trust people. And me being blind, I have to have trust in that person guiding me and making sure I don’t hurt myself. So that’s why there’s so much giving and receiving between both parties.”
“When you’re training for a marathon, you’re spending probably 12 hours a week with someone … so you’re there for a lot, like when someone loses their job or when someone gets out of a relationship, or someone’s just having a hard day. While they’re running, which is a release, they’re also venting to you, their companion.”
Jessie realized that Anthony, whom she had described upon their meeting as “the funnest person there,” was someone that she enjoyed spending time with beyond running. That’s when their love started to blossom; as they worked towards the ultimate goal of running a marathon together, they started forging a relationship that had nothing to do with pounding the pavement.
In addition to the amount of physical training that goes into distance running, there’s a psychological aspect as well. Runners have to overcome mental hurdles as they reach walls in their mileage, and anyone running with a partner has that person’s mental hurdles to push through as well.
For both runners, though, there’s an added connection—literally. The pair compete while attached using a short lede on their wrists, which helps Jessie guide Anthony on the course and enables her to gently navigate him around any obstacles he might encounter before the finish line.
It’s an arduous sport, but the pair have little in the way of negative reviews to discuss. They both talk of nothing but the positive connection they’ve forged, which led them to complete the New York Marathon together in their hometown this August.
“If you don’t put yourself out there, you don’t know what you’re missing,” Jessie explained, encouraging others to take risks that could have similarly positive outcomes. “I just went out on a Tuesday to go volunteer and go for a run. [Anthony] did the same thing … You really don’t know, just by saying yes to something, what that’s gonna do for your future.”