Shoshana Litvack

Legally blind runner takes aim at running challenge

South Surrey's Shoshana Litvack is running five-km each day this year, raising money for the BC Lung Association.

Shoshana Litvack has never been afraid of a challenge.

Through the years, the 47-year-old Rosemary Heights resident has – often as a birthday gift to herself – barreled headfirst into all manner of athletic endeavours, including the Grouse Grind and a half-marathon, which she completed with a friend in 2012 despite limited time to train.

She’s also never been shy about packing up and moving to a new city, even a new country. Prior to moving to South Surrey in 2011 with her two children, Evan and Lauren, Litvack lived in Steveston, Ottawa, Montreal and Israel.

Such undertakings would prove taxing for most people – more so for someone who is legally blind.

“When I was younger, I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder, trying very, very hard not to be disabled,” she explained. “So I moved around a lot, and did a lot – just to prove that I could.

“My parents gave me tremendous freedom to do those things, and do what I wanted.

“Today, I’m a little more cautious – I don’t know if that’s age or life experience or what, who knows?”

Litvack suffers from optic atrophy, and progressively lost her eyesight from the time she was six-months old until she was two.

“It’s the degeneration of my optic nerves,” she explained, adding that she has seven-per-cent vision in her left eye and five per-cent in her right.

Litvack has difficulty describing exactly what she is able to see.

“It’s hard to explain, because I never think things are blurry, but that’s because it’s all I’ve ever known,” she said. “I know what every picture on my wall is, for example, but I only know that because I know that. If I were closer up, they’d come into focus… I just can’t see the details.”

While Litvack considers herself more cautious now, she hasn’t completely lost her adventurous streak. Since the beginning of the year, she has been running at least five kilometres each day, collecting money for the BC Lung Association. In the past, her charity of choice has been the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, but she decided to focus on lung health this time around.

“My boyfriend is asthmatic, my ex-husband is asthmatic, his sister died of lung cancer, my daughter has seasonal asthma and my best friend has Wegener’s (granulomatosis), which is an inflation of cells that affects your lungs and airways, among other things,” she explained. “Basically, everyone closest to me is affected.”

For each completed run, she puts one dollar in her collection jar. If she misses one, she adds $5.

“If I run with somebody, I add (money) for them, too, or if I run extra, I put extra in for that,” she said, noting Evan, 10, has become one of her running partners.

Litvack plans to run each day this year. By last week, she had $117 in the jar after completing 64 days of her challenge.

If the idea of 365 consecutive runs seems daunting – sight problems or otherwise – it’s not to Litvack, who needs only to think back to her first half-marathon.

“I had no clue what I was getting into. I injured myself on my first training run,” she said. “Building up to 21½ (km) is a lot, it’s a significant number. At the start, I couldn’t run to the corner.”

Since then, running has become a major part of her life, just like roller-blading used to be – one of a handful of sports Litvack has had to retire from, on account of her vision. She doesn’t cycle on her own anymore, and gave up taekwondo when “it just became too dangerous for me.” She also doesn’t go to the gym, finding the lights and the electronic equipment “visually confusing.”

“Now, if I want some exercise, I just put my shoes on and I go. All I need is a good playlist.”

She also doesn’t do “ball sports,” preferring endeavours that leave her in full control.

“I don’t cycle anymore… I don’t like the feeling of being so high off the ground. That’s why I run – I become so comfortable that I can see with my feet. I can feel any difference in the grade or the surface,” she said.

“I’m into real hands-on stuff – weightlifting, running, paddle boarding. Things where I’m really, truly in charge.”

Considering her running success the first 2½ months of the year, Litvack has boosted her original goal of $500 to $5,000. She already has three donors willing to match her donations.

The goal, she said, is not only to raise money, but to be a good role model for her children, and perhaps inspire others.

“I’m fortunate to have overcome some serious obstacles. I live a happy, great life… I don’t drive a car and I don’t perform brain surgery, but I can still do a lot.”

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