Dustin Abanto

Dustin Abanto

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I met Charles last year at one of the Saturday meet-ups for Achilles. The wind chill brought the temperature below zero, and a light dusting of snow would show its face as we took our first morning strides. For those unfamiliar with Achilles’ workouts, they begin with a pairing process dependent on how far and fast an athlete wishes to go that morning. An achilles leader will call out, “6 miles at a 10 minute pace”, and then a guide will introduce themselves to the athlete and both will enjoy a workout.

I remember Charles requested a speed workout that particular morning. Out of sheer curiosity, I went over to ask about what exactly he wanted to do. He wanted to run a mile loop around the northeast side of the park at a 7:30 pace while accelerating up the Harlem Hill at a 7:00 minute pace. Most Manhattanite runners have a love/hate relationship with Harlem Hill. It’s a steep, bendy climb where excuses are made, and runs can slow to a walk while white flags are waved. You survive the hill, you don’t dare sprint up the hill. With a smile, I told him that sounded terrible. With a smile, he told me he wanted to do that four times.

Charles handed me his tether, and upon first glance I noticed cartoon characters. My curiosity took a backseat to the energy we expelled during our first of four ascensions up the hill. After the second loop, we were old war buddies, and I decided to ask Charles about his tether. I said, “Charles do you realize your tether has Thomas the Train on it?” As a native Frenchman, he told me he was unfamiliar with the reference. He then asked if Thomas had a particular slogan or catch phrase. My brain could not process the coincidence of what I was about to tell Charles. Barely finding the right words, I explained Thomas the Train and his little engines was used In America to teach kids how to encounter challenges. Thomas, as a locomotive, would encounter a hill and will himself to make it to the top by saying, “I think I can! I think I can!” We both ran in silence during the next quarter mile. When we started our third climb up the hill, Charles shouted, “I think I can! I think I can!” It was one of those moments you never forget.

That was almost 6 months ago. Charles and I run together on a fairly regular basis, and Charles is also there during my solo runs each morning. Whenever I realize a hill is coming up, I accelerate. In life and in Central Park. I never asked Charles how he lost his vision. Life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about how you handle it. Both Charles and I sprint up hills for different reasons, and a friendship has been created because we do it together.

I’m going to buy a Thomas the Train book for my daughter. My wife is due in 5 days, and I’m excited for her to grow up around the strong people I meet at my running group.

Thank you, Charles, and thank you, Achilles, for a life’s worth of motivation.


2 thoughts on “Dustin Abanto

  1. Wonderful, inspirational story, Dustin. It’s always the best when both parties feel like they are the lucky one…

  2. Since my son Dustin has joined Achilles I have always look forward to his text and pictures of his Achilles weekend runs. You can read in his text his excitement of helping others. I have also read his text where the runner not the guide had helped him look at life differently too. I would love to see Achilles organizations all over the United States to spread the word ” I think I can” to other people that feel they can’t run due to their personal situation. As a proud father I personally want to thank all Achilles trainers and guides for their efforts.

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