Kathleen Rogan used to keep a chart over her nightstand listing USA Track & Field qualifying standards for age-group All-America status.
She reached a point in her life when she could still read it, but didn’t want to see it.
“I crinkled it up,” she said. “What was I thinking?”
A 51-year-old Glenville native and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School graduate who lives in Kingston now, Rogan was on the verge of running a sharp New York City Marathon and was eyeballing some reachable USATF goals in 2015.
Instead, her eyes betrayed her.
Suffering from a retina that spontaneously tore in her right eye, followed by the same experience in her left, Rogan’s bright future as a masters runner tripped and fell over an unseen obstacle.
This is still a challenge for her today, with actual warps in pavement and cobblestones and the like, but Rogan is forging ahead, with the help of a guide, and will be in the field for the 39th Annual Freihofer’s Run for Women 5k in Albany on Saturday.
She has two goals for the race: Run fast, and show people that disabled runners can still compete, if they explore the resources available to help them. In Rogan’s case, she’ll run Freihofer’s with the guidance of John Nunez from the New York City chapter of Achilles International, which helps runners with a variety of disabilities to participate in the running.
“I’ve been teasing and texting him that it’s going to be 3,500 women . . . and you,” Rogan said. “People will know what’s going on. His shirt says ‘Guide’ on the front and back. The last thing you want people to think is that it’s some kind of privilege or a coach.
“I’m hoping that if some women see this, they’ll think, ‘I could do this.’ ”
It takes enough guts just to get back on the road with compromised eyesight, but to run in the sardine can of a big race like Freihofer’s (or the NYC Marathon, which Rogan did last fall) is a whole different ballgame.
Rogan has limited peripheral vision and difficulty with depth perception.
Although she is not legally blind and still drives, albeit only occasionally, a sudden shift in surface can be a dangerous impediment, compounded by the fact that a road race is a swirling maelstrom of activity, especially at a crowded starting line, with runners constantly coming in and out of your path and line of sight.
It will be a tricky balancing act for Nunez to narrate the terrain and guide Rogan through safely, while keeping her in a position to race hard. They won’t be out there for a friendly stroll up the block.
“Their [Achilles guides] attitude is it’s your race, do whatever you want to do,” Rogan said. “You feel some pressure, because we’ve got to really run. I’m so grateful people are willing to do that. It’s hard to run the pace of someone else.”
When Rogan’s eyes first became damaged, she believed it was ocular migraines. She had been under stress because her mother was in the hospital, and the first episode lasted 30 minutes before waning.
“I was seeing all kinds of things,” she said. “It was like a fireworks display.”
That summer, her doctor had encouraged her to plan for the NYC Marathon, but her eyes continued to be an issue, a chapter in her life she has titled “The Blowout.”.
“The third time I was taken off a run, I almost said, ‘No, this is getting too heartbreaking.’ Then when I joined Achilles, they convinced me that ‘You don’t have to give up,’ ” Rogan said.
“That’s why I want people to know that there’s a program out there.”
Rogan put up a new USATF chart by her bedside, and there’s a number on it that applies to Freihofer’s.
She said she’ll be OK with herself if she doesn’t hit the goal.
“Whenever something happens, you have to get back into life,” Rogan said. “You can’t be afraid, and I was afraid.”
Based on the 2016 results, Sara Hall of Golden, Colo. ,would appear to be the favorite to win Saturday’s race.
She finished second 10 seconds behind Brianne Nelson, who is not returning to defend her championship due to injury. Hall is a four-time qualifier for the World Cross Country Championships who will be taking her second crack at Freihofer’s.
Maegan Krifchin, a 2010 Syracuse University graduate, finished 15 seconds behind Hall in third last year. She won the 2012 Stockade-athon in Schenectady.
Another Stockade-athon champion, former Saratoga Springs and Providence College star Hannah Davidson, is in the elite field, too. She didn’t run Freihofer’s last year, but finished 16th in 2015.