Paving the Way for Legally-Blind Runners

When Sami Stoner discovered running back in 2008, she had no idea she was going to become legally blind before entering high school. She also had no idea that she was about to gain a new best friend, rally a community and rewrite the cross-country running rulebook. 

After Stargardt’s disease, an inherited form of juvenile macular degeneration, took away her central vision when she was only 14, Sami met Chloe, the dog who would change her life. Today, their "I" has become a "we” – and she and Chloe are ready for their next adventure: college.

But it's taken a lot of hard work and training to get where they are today.

When Sami was finally united with Chloe two years after her diagnosis, thank to an organization called Pilot Dogs Inc., she had to spend four weeks away from home training. But being away from home quickly became worthwhile when she got to meet her new dog.

Many people with Sami’s type of vision loss can still drive with the help of bioptic telescopic glasses. A small telescope embedded in the upper part of the lenses helps the driver spot things that need to be seen better like traffic signals, signs, other cars and people.

"It was really cool getting to see the dog that you know is going to be there for years and years and is going to have such a huge impact on your life," Sami remembers.

"It was an incredible feeling knowing that they had finally given us a chance because they had said 'no' so many times," she says.

Once Sami and Chloe returned home, they got to put their new skills to work running cross-country together. 

"The first time we ran together, we could barely get Chloe to calm down enough to go a hundred meters, she was so excited to run," Sami explained. 

Chloe's enthusiasm hasn't faltered since.

"Every time we say 'Chloe do you want to go run?' she'll just jump up and run to the door because she's just so excited to get out there."

Sami and Chloe ran their first race together in Galion, Ohio. They couldn't place because of special restrictions they had to follow, so Sami instead measured their success against their own personal times. Their final time, 29:30, was their personal best - more than enough for a round of cheers and tummy rubs.

When Sami and her family found out dogs weren't allowed to run cross-country in sanctioned high school events, they didn’t give up. They worked continually with the initially reluctant Ohio Athletic Association to explain her scenario – and managed to get the rules changed in time for a big race.

While certain restrictions make it impossible for Sami to place in a race, she and Chloe ended up running the fastest they'd ever run together.

"It was just incredible," Sami says. "I don't think I’ve ever been that happy.”

As the summer of 2013 winds down, Sami is planning to head to college at Otterbein University with Chloe in tow. There, they plan to find a running club at school and continue running together and pushing their own limits.

As Sami leaves the small town where she grew up, she's glad to be assisted by her best friend.

As she puts it, “At the end of the day we come back together and we just love each other unconditionally.”

Inspired to start breaking barriers with your own pet? We'll show you how.

Purina Takes Sami on her Dream Run

At Purina, we were so inspired by Sami and Chloe's relationship that we offered to send them on a dream run anywhere in the U.S. before they went off to college together. Sami had always wanted to visit San Francisco, so we made that happen.

"Everything about San Francisco is incredible," she says. "It's so unique." 

In August 2013, we sent the pair on a whirlwind running tour of the San Francisco Bay area. From running on the beach beneath the Golden Gate Bridge to the redwood laden paths of Mount Tam, Sami and Chloe experienced the best sights, sounds, and smells San Francisco had to offer. 

Sami's favorite part was running on the mountains and the rolling hills. And of course, sharing that experience with Chloe. 

"Traveling with Chloe is a lot of fun - she always keeps things interesting. She's my other half so having her with me was incredible."