Ohio YMCA Bans Blind Runner from Track after Collisions

By: The Columbus Dispatch Email
By: The Columbus Dispatch Email

(Dispatch) NEWARK, Ohio — A recent collision between members on an indoor walking/running track has prompted the Licking County Family YMCA to banish one of the runners to the treadmills or another type of cardio machine.

Newark resident Robert Jutzi, who is blind, has been running at the YMCA three mornings a week, every week, since December 2001. The YMCA has made some accommodations for him, posting a sign near the track warning that a blind member uses it. Jutzi, 48, said he wears a colorful vest while he runs, and he runs the opposite direction of the rest of the field, occupying the inside lane so that he can run his hand along the rail for guidance.

Jutzi acknowledged that the other member got the worst of the Feb. 25 collision.

And he conceded that was not the first time another member has collided with him. “I quit stopping (to see if they’re OK) a long time ago,” he said. “After all these years, when you run into people who aren’t paying attention, you lose your cool very quickly. People have working eye sockets. If they refuse to use them, I won’t take responsibility.”

The YMCA doesn't have that luxury, said Director Ed Bohren. “You need to weigh safety on the whole,” he said. “There were just too many incidents, and too many close calls.”

The track is small, taking 18 laps to cover a mile, and gets crowded easily, Bohren said, adding that Jutzi “runs pretty fast.”

“It doesn’t take much for someone to look down at a heart monitor or their music or just weave,” Bohren said. “We’ve made accommodations over the years, but it’s to the point it’s become a risk."

One collision sent a YMCA member to the hospital, he said.

Jutzi, who already owns a treadmill, said he feels that he’s being punished for his disability. “ I live two blocks from Giant Eagle,” he said. “I know darned well if I crossed 24th Street without paying attention, I’d get hit. It would be ludicrous for me to then say, ‘Get that car off the road.’  ”

However, a state spokesman said it doesn’t sound like a case of discrimination.

Brad Reynolds, a spokesman for the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission, said the YMCA is probably within compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The law says they have to provide reasonable accommodations that will not be hazardous to the individual or the organization,” Reynolds said. “Without knowing every detail, it seems they’ve done that.”

Jutzi is hoping for a better alternative. “I don’t care to be stuck on a treadmill forever,” he said. “Running has been my lifelong enjoyment and the track, for me, is the closest thing to being able to run outside.”

Jutzi said he’s open to alternatives. “I’m not sure yet — maybe put a lock on the door while I use it from 6:30 to 8 in the morning. That way no one gets hurt.”

Bohren said they won’t close the track to members, and suggested finding a running partner for Jutzi. “There are some options ... but in order for us to be accommodating, we have to meet halfway.”


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