Guiding light helps Francesca’s dream

Francesca Balon (right)  with guide runner Sarah McDermott
Francesca Balon (right) with guide runner Sarah McDermott

A young fund-raiser will take on a marathon challenge for the charity which helped her get on the road to academic success.

Francesca Balon, from Leigh, hopes to raise around £2,000 for Blind Children UK by completing the 26.2 miles of the London Marathon course with guide runner Sarah McDermott.

The 20-year-old wants to support the charity, which from January will become part of Guide Dogs, to expand its services helping the families of blind and visually-impaired children get the right school and college placements.

It is a personal challenge for Francesca, from Pennington, as Blind Children UK helped her take Wigan Council to a tribunal over her gaining a place at the prestigious New College for the Blind in Worcester.

She says the charity’s help turned her life around after several tough years battling mental health issues and other problems caused by struggling to fit in at school due to her visual impairment.

She is now in the second year of a degree in criminology and criminal justice at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) in Preston and is determined to juggle her course and her marathon training to raise awareness of Blind Children UK’s work.

Francesca said: “I have a few friends who have done the marathon and when the offer came up to do it for Guide Dogs I really wanted to do it.

“It’s about giving something back and also raising awareness. They helped me and my family through a tribunal against Wigan Council and that was quite a hard time in my life. I had a bad time in mainstream schooling and that was the turning point for me really.

“People think Guide Dogs is just about four-legged friends but it’s so much more. There’s support for families, books in different formats for children and so on.

“For me it’s the advice service for kids. Challenging an authority can cost up to £25,000 and most families can’t do that. I was fortunate because they got an education psychologist’s assessment and that was paramount in getting my place at Worcester.

“I want it to become a stronger service and I’m hoping becoming part of Guide Dogs will help because they get no government funding.”

Francesca admits she is starting road running from scratch but is currently training twice a week and has also joined Lymm Runners, where Manchester-based guide athlete Sarah is a member.

The two formed their partnership after Francesca applied for a guide runner through a database maintained by British Blind Athletics.

She is hoping to do a 10k and a half marathon in the run-up to the big day next April and says she is enjoying the challenge so far.

Francesca said: “Running outside is new to me but my first attempt went better than I thought it might. I suffer from asthma and it was pouring with rain as well but it went well, I didn’t stop.

“It was quite scary in the dark because with my condition I’m pretty night blind, but Sarah and I have clicked really well.

“Having a guide runner is quite hard, you have to really get on with that person and you’ve got to be able to put your trust in them completely.

“I’ve also got a really good gym where everyone is very supportive.”

Francesca Balon is running the 2017 London Marathon for Guide Dogs and its education support service currently known as Blind Children UK.

To find out more or donate, search for Francesca Balon at uk.virginmoneygiving.com