Ivonne Mosquera-Schmidt, who will compete at the London Marathon on Sunday, competed at the 2012 U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Trials.
When she was 2 years old, runner Ivonne Mosquera-Schmidt lost her vision to retinal cancer, but she never lost sight of a normal life. Yet Mosquera-Schmidt, who had her eyes removed shortly after her diagnosis to prevent cancer from spreading to her brain, is anything but ordinary.
On Sunday, Mosquera-Schmidt will represent the United States in the first race of the inaugural International Paralympic Committee Marathon Series, the London Marathon, alongside able-bodied runners.
She has always lived her life among sighted people, attending mainstream schools from kindergarten through college. Never having seen a chalk board or a computer screen, the New York native received her undergraduate degree at Stanford University and completed her education by getting her MBA in finance at the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College, a part of the City University of New York.
While in the classroom, she had a strong desire to get outside in her downtime. A former ballet and tap dancer who performed at the Lincoln Center and Madison Square Garden, Mosquera-Schmidt discovered that running outside gave her the movement she needed.
“The techniques, form and focus of running have so many similarities to what I learned in dance,” she said. “Being light on my feet, balancing and the discipline is the same, but I can be free. I've never really been a runner but I absolutely fell in love with it.”
The relation to dancing is not the only reason Mosquera-Schmidt found her stride in running.
“It’s empowering,” she said. “Being a completely blind runner is different than just visually impaired. My body works on reactions alone instead of adapting to shapes or shadows. I am always waiting and relying on balance and my guide. I read everything by reflex so it makes me very alert.”
Mosquera-Schmidt, who is runs with a guide who is attached to her by a 16 inch tether, explained that being completely blind comes with an immense amount of trust in her own balance and reflexes as well as her guide.
She finds that having different guides and teaching those who have not guided before is an ideal way to expose people to the Paralympic Movement and people with physical and visual impairments.
Mosquera-Schmidt is always looking for more ways to showcase her abilities and her ability to overcome challenges that would hinder able-bodied people.
As if climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was not enough, Mosquera-Schmidt has ran 13 marathons and won the Boston Marathon three times. She also competed at the 2012 U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Trials, which she lists as one of her most memorable events.
“I’ve never experienced anything that intense until that weekend,” she said about the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Trials. “It was almost palpable, like a heartbeat. I had invested so much into it, so the personal pressure, excitement, nerves and the drive to do well were all mixed in.”
Although she did not make the U.S. Paralympic Team, Mosquera-Schmidt experienced success in breaking the American record in the 1500 meter for the T11 class. She was later invited to compete in the inaugural IPC Marathon Series starting with the London Marathon on April 21.
Taking part in the London Marathon is an advantageous step in her Paralympic career but Mosquera-Schmidt, who also does triathlons, she sees the London Marathon as another opportunity to be an advocate for fully blind women in long-distance running.
“It will serve as a vehicle for bridging able bodied people and disabled individuals,” she said. “It’s refreshing that even though I always have to have a guide, whether I’m practicing or competing, they share the same goals and love for running.
“I get to be that connection for people who don’t know much about people with disabilities and all the hard work that goes into training.”
Mosquera-Schmidt also said she prides herself on being a pioneer and role model for other completely blind women to run, as well as an inspiration for sighted people to become guide runners.
She views the London Marathon as her start of opening the dialogue for the need for guide runners and the opportunities for totally blind athletes.
Other goals Mosquera-Schmidt has set for herself this year are to compete in the annual Desert Challenge in Mesa, Ariz., which is a part of the inaugural IPC Grand Prix series, and concentrate on doing well in marathons.
One way she keeps herself motivated during a race is to dedicate a mile to a specific person or goal.
“After doing the Boston Marathon, and it being such an impactful event for me, I’ve decided to dedicate one of my miles to all the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing,” she said. “If anything, [the bombing] just makes me want to run more and finish for those who weren’t able to.”
Mosquera-Schmidt said the first time she ever competed in the Boston Marathon, the excitement of being a part of something so historic gave her goose bumps at the start. Running the same route as elite athletes, including Paralympians representing multiple countries, gives everyone a chance to be proud of making history at the finish.
“The bombing was an absolute tragedy, but everyone there was on a journey,” she said. “Now they are all on a recovery journey. They have the choice to strengthen, recover, choose what comes next and take a deeper look into humanity.”
She also said that the amount of giving, helping and kindness that took place assisted in helping everyone overcome the tragedy and arrive at a bigger and brighter place. Running, to Mosquera-Schmidt, is all about feeling free and safe, and nothing should be able to take that away.
She will keep running.
“It’s so much more than speed; it’s about getting out there and really getting started.”