Community Achilles Canada Volunteer President Continues Running and Operating Club Despite Vision Loss

    Achilles Canada Volunteer President Continues Running and Operating Club Despite Vision Loss


    Having just one per cent vision hasn’t slowed Brian McLean down. In fact, his loss of sight has inspired him to keep running. “Running has impacted my life in a positive way because I feel it is still the one thing that I really enjoy doing as an individual,” said McLean, who is a Toronto resident. “And now that my eyesight has gotten worse, I do enjoy group runs or running with a guide runner to just stay healthy and fit. It’s the one thing that gives me solitude and comfort. I feel relaxed and at ease.”

    For almost a quarter century now, McLean has provided the opportunity for countless others to feel the same. He launched Achilles Canada in 1999. “I discovered that there was a need for a running club that could help people with various disabilities to get involved with running to stay healthy and fit,” McLean said. The main annual fundraiser for McLean’s club is the Toronto St. Patrick’s Day Run, scheduled this year for Sunday, March 12. “Now that most of the pandemic restrictions have loosened, we are really looking forward to having another sell-out year of more than 1,500 participants,” McLean said of the race, which is celebrating its 24th anniversary this year. The event includes a 1K kids’ run, a 5K run/walk and a 10K race for competitive runners. Virtual options are also available for all events for those who can’t attend in person.

    BEERS TO YOU: McLean, enjoying the fruits of his trade.

    “It’s a nice out-and-back route in downtown Toronto, starting and finishing at Steam Whistle Brewing,” McLean said, adding that the brewery has been a major sponsor of the race for more than two decades. “It has been a fantastic partnership for more than 20 years and Steam Whistle guarantees all participants a free pint of beer. Also, as part of your entry fee, you get a hot bowl of chilli in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.”

    McLean, who has retinitis pigmentosa, started losing his eyesight when he was 16. He’s turning 60 this year. “I tell people, I’ve always been a runner—not a competitive runner, but I’ve always enjoyed running just to stay fit,” he said. McLean, the volunteer president of Achilles Canada, is thrilled his club is assisting others as well. “It brings me a lot of satisfaction knowing that I’m helping thousands of Canadians across the country that have a disability to remain healthy and fit,” he said. Funds the club raises are redirected back to the charity. “We help all the Achilles athletes to buy the proper running attire, good running shoes and we help them with entry fees into various races that they would like to go to,” McLean said. “And we do have some subsidies to help them with their travel expenses if they go out of town for a race.”

    McLean added visually-impaired runners/walkers, as well as other club members with a disability, receive a tremendous boost simply by taking part in events. “They get a sense of satisfaction, joy, accomplishment,” he said. “They get a sense of ‘this is one sport that I can do,’ still partake in even with limited sight or even with another disability with the help of running guides that will help guide me to the start line and, more importantly, the finish line.”

    McLean added impacts from the pandemic have convinced him to try and make Achilles Canada more of an advocacy organization. “We have noticed a large number of disabled athletes or disabled individuals have suffered from depression and mental health issues because of the pandemic,” he said. “So, we want to expand and provide more services in the mental health area.”

    Those looking for more information on the club, to make or donation or for more details on this year’s Toronto St. Patrick’s Day Run can visit