Vincent Hau ran the 2014 Boston Marathon to celebrate the city’s triumph over the tragic bombings the year before.
At the race, he learned from fellow runners of an organization that compelled him to “run Boston” again this year.
Team With A Vision, which each year competes to raise funds and awareness for the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, connects sighted distance runners with those who are visually impaired. The sighted runner guides the blind runner away from potholes and other hazards. For Dr. Hau, a retina surgeon with Kaiser Permanente in Riverside, California, it was an irresistible opportunity.
“With my passion for running and my work with the visually impaired, I thought this would be a great opportunity,” Dr. Hau said.
“In Team With a Vision, these visually impaired people are demonstrating to the world how they can accomplish something that is so challenging even for a regularly healthy person. And I thought this would be a great story of inspiration that I can bring back to my patients and give them some of that hope, and assure them that their life isn’t over, that they can throw away other people’s expectations of their limitation.”
Dr. Hau has run 13 marathons, “and most of the time it’s to achieve a personal goal,” he said. “By running as a guide for someone who is visually impaired, you’re helping someone else get to the end of the race. The teamwork aspect in running a marathon was something I had never experienced before.”
Dr. Hau was paired with Richard Hunter, an experienced marathoner and former Marine who was honorably discharged after he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. Hunter can see blurs of color, so Dr. Hau, wearing a bright red singlet, was careful to run in front of Hunter to show him the way. A second guide, Dan Streetman, ran connected to Hunter by an 18-inch tether. If Hunter veered toward a pothole, Streetman would tug on the tether to keep him on course.
Other runners on their team were Thomas Panek, who is visually impaired and CEO of a seeing eye dog company called Guiding Eyes; Peter Sagal, host of NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” and ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek, who holds the U.S. record for most miles run in 24 hours: 165.7.
Dr. Hau said he typically runs five or six days a week. He gets up at 3:30 a.m., runs from 4 or 4:30 to 5:30, and averages 10 to 15 miles a day.
Dr. Hau and his family moved to Tucson when he was 11. He began working in the research lab of Pharmacology Professor Tom Davis, PhD, when he was still in high school. He earned a UA bachelor’s degree in biochemistry in 1997, and graduated from the UA College of Medicine in 2005, with an MD and a PhD in pharmacology.
He attributes his drive and his success to his parents’ escape from Saigon on the night of April 30, 1975 – the night Saigon fell to the Viet Cong.
“They stowed away in a boat under the cover of night and were chased down by the Viet Cong under gunfire. All the stories about the fall of Saigon, the footage of the people trying to escape by helicopters, that was my parents,” Dr. Hau said. He was born a few months later after his parents settled near Philadelphia.
“So throughout my life I’ve always been aware that my parents contributed a lot to my success and gave me the opportunities I have had by risking their lives to come to America, knowing that if I had had to stay in Vietnam I would not have had the same opportunities. So that’s why I’ve worked hard. I want to make sure I give back to folks in different ways, one of which was doing what I just did, being a guide for Richard, and being a physician, helping those in need who have lost their vision.”
By Jane Erikson
Photo, left to right: Thomas Panek, Scott Jurek, Peter Sagal, Vincent Hau, Richard Hunter and Dan Streetman
To learn more about Team With a Vision or the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, visit mabvi.org. If you are interested in becoming a sighted running guide for a person who is visually impaired, or would like a guide for yourself, visit unitedinstride.com.