TOU Marathon

From left, Melissa Sanders, Suzette Hirst, Becky Andrews, and Brenda Bergeson Petersen compete in the Top of Utah Marathon on Saturday. Andrews, of Bountiful, is legally blind. (John Zsiray/Herald Journal)

Becky Andrews knows a thing or two about resiliency.

After all, she not only has raised a family, received her bachelor's and master's degrees from Utah State, opened her own therapy practice, run a few half marathons, and completed her first full marathon at the 2012 Top of Utah Marathon, but she managed to do all that and more with an extra added burden.

Andrews is legally blind.

At 18, Andrews was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disability that has taken her eyesight from her.

But her eyesight seems to be the only thing that has been taken from her. She hasn't lost her life, her joy or her desire to achieve. She creates that for herself.

“I think we all have that resilient spirit, that ability to bounce back in difficult times,” Andrews said before the TOU Marathon. “I'm grateful for that. I think it's inspired by others and that we can do hard things. We feel good when we do hard things. I don't think this is going to be easy, but the journey has been very rewarding.”

Andrews, a Cache Valley native who grew up in Providence and now lives in Bountiful, ran in her first full marathon during this year's Top of Utah, finishing with a time of 5 hours, 12 minutes and 55 seconds. But this is not the end or the beginning of anything for Andrews. It's just another step in an amazing life that has seen her accomplish what she sets out to do.

Not one to let life's disappointments keep her down, Andrews has been staying active her entire life. Her and her husband Steve, who also hails from the valley, love to stay active by going on tandem bike rides. That eventually led to running, which is something she describes as a freeing experience.

“I think that is one reason why running is just so free,” Andrews said. “When you first loose your eyesight, it seems so restricting. … The experience of running is kind of like that feeling of walking with a guide dog; blindness becomes not a big deal. It's kind of secondary. I feel comfortable.”

Andrews, who uses a guide dog, Cricket, also must rely on friends and family to help guide her as she is running in races. She uses a tether system that allows her to stay connected to someone who leads her in the right direction, helping her avoid pot holes and other potential obstacles.

This year, for her first marathon, she used the aid of two special friends, Suzette Hirst and Brenda Petersen.

“They're pretty incredible,” Andrews said of her partners. “I wouldn't be able to do it without them. … I can do a lot of things independently, but this is one thing that I wouldn't be able to do without them.”

Hirst and Petersen took turns, each running with Andrews for five miles using the tether system. Andrews' husband ran the last few miles with her.

The tether is about 12 inches long, and with it, Andrews is able to run in the marathon as a visually-impaired person.

But Saturday's race has been a long time coming. Andrews has been running with her husband and with friends for more than four years. She has been running with Hirst and Petersen for the last year in preparation for the marathon.

However, while they may have the system down now, Andrews said she wasn't as confident at the beginning.

“The first time I met my friends to run, I was pretty nervous to put that trust in someone,” Andrews said. “It's definitely quite hard, but worth doing.”

As she has proven with her life up to this point, Andrews is not content to remain in the same situation. She is constantly looking for a new challenge and a new way to push her boundaries. She hopes to qualify for the Boston Marathon and admits to having caught the running bug.

“I can see how running kind of gets into your blood,” Andrews said. “I don't think this is our last. We've really enjoyed it. We'll see. We'll do our best. That's all we can do in life (is) our best.”

Being out with her friends and her husband are some of Andrews’ favorite things, and having the added challenge of being blind just adds to the trust that she is able to build with the people in her life. It's the same kind of trust she has learned to place in one of her closest friends, Cricket.

“I love be active,” Andrews said. “It's a fun experience to connect with friends. You have to learn to trust people. Like when I first started to walk with a guide dog, you have to learn to trust your dog.”

Andrews and her husband both graduated from USU, and her two kids have attended. She thought it was fitting her first marathon was in a place where she feels comfortable.

“We're Aggies,” Andrews said.

As the name of her therapy practice — Resilient Solutions — implies, Andrews has been resilient throughout all of the challenges that life has thrown her way. But what is truly inspiring is not her ability to accomplish and achieve her goals and dreams, but how she achieves them.

“No matter what happens, I think it feels like life,” Andrews said of preparing for the marathon. “The journey or preparing is a victory.”

In that light, Andrews' entire life has been a victory. She has shown and proved that great things can be accomplished with dedication and that resilient spirit she believes all people possess.