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Area's Visually Impaired Participate In Annual Run
Wearing dark shades and holding the white cane that denotes the blind, Mauricio Molina of Modesto was staffing the booth for the Vision Impaired Persons Support (VIPS) group at Saturday's fundraising run in Riverbank.

Molina did not participate in this year's event but did take part in the first VIPS run/walk three years ago when his sight was already deteriorating. He was willing to talk about how it feels to run when you can't see very well.

"I have a disease called retinitis pigmentosa that will cause me to go totally blind eventually," he said. "I was a postal worker for 15 years. Now I work at the VIPS support center in Modesto teaching others who are visually impaired how to manage in daily life."

Riverbank optometrist Dr. Brian Elliot, who served on the planning commission here for many years and has offices both here and in Modesto, helped start the VIPS group and organized Saturday's event with the help of the ShadowChase Running Club of Modesto.

More than 250 runners and walkers took part in the event that started from the Galaxy Theater and followed Jackson Avenue north into the River Heights residential area. Elliott said there were half a dozen participants who were visually impaired taking part in Saturday's run.

"I realized maybe I should stop when I came dangerously close to some trash cans when training," Molina said of not currently putting on the running shoes. "But I'd like to try it again, next year maybe. I'd probably have to run with a sighted person."

The totally or the partially blind can run beside a sighted person, some of them touching an upper arm, some of them holding a baton between them so they are connected but don't bump into each other, said Elliott.

It still takes a lot of courage and trust.

Very often the visually impaired runners are former athletes, who can't give up the idea of competing.

They vary in how much they can see from very low vision to legal blindness, Elliott added.

The annual run has both a 5K and a 10K course. Most of the vision impaired opt to take on the 5K with a sighted guide.

VIPS is a non-profit corporation that opened a facility in downtown Modesto in 2005. It has a computer lab for assistive technology instruction (like handling computers), a full kitchen and laundry area for independent living skills training and a conference room for Braille instruction and other meetings.

VIPS became a vendor for the California Department of Rehabilitation in 2009 and for the Veterans Administration in June of this year. There is a scholarship fund for those who do not qualify with DOR or the VA and need financial assistance.

VIPS' web site is and the telephone number 522-8477.

Over one million Americans aged 40 and over are blind and an additional 2.4 million are visually impaired with those numbers expected to double over the next 30 years as the baby boomer generation ages, according to VIPS statistics.