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Blind Canadian runner finishes 500K Vol State ultra strong, unguided

Tennessee ultramarathon may be the most challenging yet for Kitchener, Ont.'s Rhonda-Marie Parke

Photo: Instagram

Rhonda-Marie Parke of Kitchener, Ont. finished the Last Annual Vol State ultramarathon on Friday after eight days, 16 hours and 25 minutes.

The race crosses the state of Tennessee on the diagonal from northwest to southeast, mainly on roads–sometimes on highways with no shoulder. Runners must maintain a pace of 50.24K per day to finish in the allotted 10 days. Pacers are not allowed, and there are no aid stations and no volunteers, though runners may be supported by a crew if they wish. Locals along the route, known as Vol State “angels,” have been known to offer up shade, water, and shelter, though there are also frequent reports of stray and unleashed dogs and other wildlife. 

Photo: Facebook

It was a triumph for Parke, who is legally blind, and who did the race without a guide, to bring awareness of the daily challenges faced by the differently-abled. Parke mostly walked the course with a white cane and wearing a vest reading “BLIND.” Of 117 runners who started, 83 finished; Parke was 64th. The rest quit; no one missed the cutoff. Several runners celebrated multiple finishes.

Photo: Instagram

Parke was not the only Ontarian in the race. Tim the Grim Reaper from Hamilton, Ont.’s Around the Bay race (who prefers to remain mostly anonymous) finished in 75th place along with Andrea Sloan, co-race director for the 200-mile (320K) Sulphur Springs ultramarathon in Ancaster, Ont., who was 76th. For all three, it was their first time racing Vol State. Lisa Van Wolde finished 21st, and Terry Bonnett 22nd.


Here’s an entry from Rhonda’s Facebook page, written by her crew, Chris Mintz, just after she finished:

“Rhonda’s finish is an amazing 8 day, 16 hour, 25 minute adventure filled with challenges and struggle, but persistence and the desire to show the world that those with disability should be included in sport drove her to continue forwards pushing through pain and fear.

“Everyone should be given the right to chase their own finish line, but in order to make that happen everyone has to be given the right to stand at the start.” 


Here are some comments from other finishers, from the race’s athlete-tracking page:

“I’d like to say it was fun, but I might be lying.”

“I’m tired. I wanna cold beer.”

“That was fun. Never again.”