By Mason Kelley
For David Francis Jr., 2017 has been a year to help others. He started by working with his wife as she trained for her first half marathon. Then he worked with members of the Inland Empire Running Club to achieve their goals. For the past four months, he has been training with Regine Sediva, a lifelong runner who has been legally blind since birth.
“This has been my year of giving back if you will,” Francis Jr. said. “Last year, I had a lot of people helping me achieve my own personal running goals. This year, I’m paying it forward.”
But, when Francis Jr. set out on this journey, he didn’t initially plan on working with Sediva. In fact, while both runners belonged to the same running club, they had never met.
Then, one serendipitous morning, Francis Jr. was out pacing the 8:30 a.m. group. On this particular day, he was at the back of the pack.
“Regine was there running with a gentleman, and I was at the back of the group,” Francis Jr. said. “I heard the guy giving her directions.”
Sediva’s guide was pointing out debris in the road, imperfections in the terrain, anything that may present a tripping hazard for the runner, who was diagnosed with tunnel vision at birth – she has no peripheral vision.
Francis Jr. looked at another runner in the group.
“Is she blind?” the 39-year-old asked.
“Yeah, she’s sight impaired,” the runner replied.
That prompted Francis Jr. to say, “Oh wow, that’s pretty cool.”
A few weeks later, Francis Jr. and Sediva were back on a 12-mile training run. When the group hit a loop up and around a hill, Sediva’s guide asked Francis Jr. if he would help Sediva navigate that portion of the course. The guide was running a half marathon the next day and wanted to save his legs.
“No problem,” Francis Jr. said. “I’ve got her. She can run with me.”
He paced Sediva just off his left side. And, when they finished the loop and stopped for a quick drink at a water station, “she just kind of stuck with me.”
When they finished the run, Sediva had a request: “Would you mind being my guide and pacer for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Los Angeles Half Marathon?”
“Sure, I can do that,” Francis Jr. said.
The duo has been training together ever since and will compete together Sunday in the United Airlines Rock ‘n’ Roll Los Angeles Half Marathon.
“I’ve been going out to her home a couple of time a week to train,” he said. “It’s just kind of a unique thing. She’s 50. She’s white. I’m a lot younger than she is. I’m African American. So I think it’s kind of a cool story of people from different backgrounds coming together, working together to achieve a goal. She is amazing, not only as a runner, but as an inspiration to want to get out and go running.”
For Sediva, running has always been a way to relieve stress.
“I’ve been a runner all my life,” she said, moving from junior high to high school and then at Mt. San Antonio College.
She tried gymnastics and swimming when she was younger, but it was running that really captured her attention.
“It’s something that makes me feel good,” she said.
As an adult, she’s competed in about 15 full marathons and just as many half marathons. She competed in her first Rock ‘n’ Roll event in Las Vegas last year and ran the Boston Marathon twice.
She was about a half mile from the finish in 2013 when the course was cleared after bombs exploded at the finish. She made sure to return the next year determined to cross the finish line on an emotional day.
For Sediva, running has been baked into her identity, with those in the running club becoming members of her extended family. Francis Jr. is the latest addition.
“I’m glad David is going to run with me,” she said.
While Sediva doesn’t set specific race goals, “I usually do them (half marathons) in under two (hours).”
But, most important, she wants to enjoy the experience.
“Just have a good time,” she said. “That’s what I tell a lot of people when they find out I’m a runner and they’re asking about their first time. Just have a good time. Don’t worry about pace. Don’t worry about how long it takes you to finish.”
And, with a new friend by her side, Sunday’s race is sure to provide another memorable chapter in her competitive career.
“Here is a person who is sight impaired and she’s not letting it stop her from going out and achieving a lot of the goals she wants to achieve,” Francis Jr. said. “She’s not letting anything hold her back, which is pretty cool. She inspires me.
“She’s someone the world should meet.”