Posted: Oct 28, 2019
OXFORD, Mich. - In April 2019, Oxford resident Justin Willcock reached out on a Facebook community forum that he is blind and is looking for a running-partner for local jogging. Oxford Varsity Girls Tennis Head Coach Gayle Bailey answered the call and decided to help Justin achieve his goal.
After hours of research, Bailey found on YouTube that she could tie a rope from each of their index fingers to help guide each other. "In the beginning stages, we really had to get a feel for each other," said Bailey. "His Running strides were much longer than mine and it took a few weeks to become comfortable and in sync with each other." Gayle is also a former Iron-man competitor and cycling instructor, which often helped her call out cues to Justin during their runs on the Polly-Ann Trail in Oxford.
Willcock mentioned to Bailey that he often dreamed about running a half-marathon. Together, they decided they would compete in the International Half-Marathon in October 2019. Gayle's daughter and friends helped raise money through a lemonade stand to cover Willcock's safety vest and race-fee.
After logging in 170 hours of running together, the day finally came to participate in the International Half-Marathon in Detroit. Bailey was soon to realize the safety challenges lied ahead of them. She began coaching step-by-step to avoid all debris laying on the street. As they crossed the Ambassador Bridge, they both stopped for Bailey to describe what a beautiful sight they were a part of.
"It was truly amazing to see someone do what he did," said Head Coach Gayle Bailey. "A real life-changing experience. We had to have a different mind-set to get us both the finish line safely. We were packed in and had to slow down often. Other race participants were very courteous and grateful throughout the day. We've gained a true friendship throughout this process and I'm excited for more to come!"
Coach Bailey is an Oxford resident and started the Girls' Tennis program in 2013.