Blind Rotary Scholar completes half-marathon
Past District Governor D'Lisa Simmons (right) leads Eveling Urbina through the half-marathon in Houston. Photo courtesy of D'Lisa Simmons
Helen Keller had Anne Sullivan, and Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar Eveling Urbina has D'Lisa Simmons.
Urbina, a 28-year-old blind woman from León, Nicaragua, recently finished her year as a Rotary Scholar at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, studying English. She was sponsored by Rotary International District 5890 (Texas, USA), of which Simmons is a past governor, and RI District 4240 (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Panama).
But perhaps more impressive, Urbina, who’d never run a step in her life before she went to Houston, completed a half-marathon -- 13.1 miles ‑- in late October with the help of Simmons, a former Rotary Scholar herself.
"She was overjoyed to finish," says Simmons, who guided Urbina along the course by holding onto one end of a towel while Urbina held the other. "People were very supportive and encouraging. Most of our running group hung around to see us finish."
"The experience of completing a half-marathon has really changed my life," Urbina noted in her final report to The Rotary Foundation on her scholarship year. "It made me realize that, even though I am blind, I can accomplish almost anything. It gave me a feeling of dignity and self-worth."
Simmons met Urbina during a community service project to Nicaragua in 2000 as president-elect of the Rotary Club of Galleria Area (Houston), during which she toured the Rotarian-supported Santa Lucia School for the Blind with a group of Texas Rotarians. Simmons was so moved by the encounter, she returned two years later to bring Urbina a Braille typewriter.
Since then, Rotarians in Simmons' district have helped Urbina in many ways, including purchasing Braille equipment and software that translates words on a computer screen into spoken language.
At Simmons' encouragement, Urbina applied for an Ambassadorial Scholarship, with District 5890 providing the money to the Nicaraguan district. Simmons took Urbina into her home for the first five months of her stay, teaching her how to care for herself and navigate on her own. Braille labels covered everything from cabinets to the kitchen stove.
One step at a time
Simmons also coaxed Urbina into learning to run, as a way to build her self-esteem and increase her social interactions. Training with the group HoustonFit, Urbina had to learn many things, including proper gait and arm swing.
"It was frustrating for her initially, because she wanted to keep up with the group," Simmons says. "Once she got moving, she didn't want to run slowly. When she runs, she wants to run."
After months of training, the pair entered the Houston half-marathon, and crossed the finish line to a chorus of cheers, bells, and applause.
"When I heard the bells at mile 13, I really thought I was dreaming," Urbina wrote. "I knew I could finish."
Simmons, who is now a member of the newly chartered Rotary Club of Houston Skyline, says the entire experience has transformed Urbina. "The program has given her a wonderful sense of self-confidence and helped her develop, grow, and mature."
Urbina says her goal is to use her scholarship to help others.
"I am excited about the opportunity to return to Nicaragua and share my experience," she says. "My dream is that I will one day become a Rotarian."
Learn how to apply for a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholarship