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iTAB Star, Sept 2023

Ryan Butler from Ontario, Canada.

It’s not all fun and dandy. I can maybe see about five feet in front of me. I have no peripheral vision.”

Partially sighted Ryan Butler made a promise to his father that marked the beginning of a running story that has spanned 9 Canada Army Runs and numerous surgeries. He runs in honour of his family, and all families with ties to the servicemen and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice so he can run today.

‘It was a promise to my father. Quitting smoking was the right thing to do, and running took its place, and I love it. It’s a part of me now, it’s what I enjoy.’

Ryan, on why he runs.

When did you start to lose your sight?

I started to lose some vision in late primary school, grade eight, and I didn’t really understand what was going on. I wasn’t really getting any answers, and nobody seemed to really know either. It turns out the condition I have it’s called keratoconus, and it doesn’t cause blindness in the traditional sense, my vision won’t go black. But my vision is quite distorted you know, it’s bad. It’s a corneal disease, so where your cornea is kind of rounded, mine is quite pointy. So, when the light hits, it refracts differently, and it breaks apart the images so I can’t see clearly. I had a lot of operations on my eyes, and they were getting stable, which was why I figured I wanted to try and get into the forces, and at one point in time I passed the eye exam to get in. But unfortunately, the nature of the disease, it wasn’t stable, and it’s not stable. I had an operation a couple months ago and then I have another operation probably later this year, on my other eye, so it’s an ongoing thing.

So why do you run?

I love it. I can say I started running for specific reason, which was my father, but I love it. I won’t stop, not until I have to.

What was the spark that began your running journey?

It was a promise I made to give up a bad habit to my father, and I needed something to replace it. I wanted to get in better shape, and I wanted to make sure that I could do everything that I can to be here for my wife and to be here for my family for the long term. Quitting smoking was the right thing to do, and running took its place and I love it. It’s a part of me now, it’s what I enjoy.

How does running make you feel?

Some days are better than others, we’re getting a little old. You know, I feel it in my joints and in my bones but as far as like my heart with it, I feel really good. I really enjoy running, and I enjoy setting the goals and the accomplishments of working towards something and completing it.

Howe does your eye condition affect your running?

It’s not all fun and dandy. That’s how I injured my leg because if I’m running on my own, and I’m running in an area that I’m not very familiar with. – and Ottawa roads are horrible for potholes, they’re just terrible – I didn’t see it you know, so I tripped on a pothole running in the rain. It’s tough because I can’t tell if it’s just a puddle or if it’s a big hole with water in it. Depending on the time of day, the sun can really hurt my eyes. I can maybe see about five feet in front of me. I have no peripheral vision so don’t scare me by coming up on my side. Sometimes I run with a guide, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes what I’ll do is I’ll end up following a runner that’s kind of keeping my pace or that I’m keeping up with, and I’ll use them as a visual cue. And sometimes I’ve had to take my earbuds out and I’ve had to ask someone, hey, is the turn coming up? Because I can’t tell, so sometimes I go past it and I’ve gone too far. And then I’ve had people yell at me to turn back and get on the course. But chest la vie!

Greatest Running achievement?

The Disney Marathon. It was my first marathon. I started running 5ks and then I progressed to 10ks and then I wanted new challenges. So, I ran a half marathon, and then I ran the Commander’s Challenge events with the Canada Army Run and the natural progression was the marathon.

What came next after your first marathon?

I trained you know for x number of weeks. I was ready for the Disney marathon ran on January 10, 2016. We flew down to Florida and it was fantastic, I loved it. Right after that event I registered for the Ottawa Marathon Race Weekend in May of 2016. When I started that run, I was feeling really good, but around the 10th kilometre mark I tripped on a pothole, and I sustained a pretty bad leg injury. I broke my tibia. I tore ligaments in my left knee my PCL ligament, my MCL ligament. I continued to run on it until about kilometre 25. And then I was removed from the event. It was a lot of recovery, a long recovery, and it was stressful because I’ve never really been injured before, not from running anyways. Running is so important to me that I didn’t want to just sit on my butt and do nothing all summer, so I ended up just rehabbing at my local community centre using some of the equipment there, and I rehabbed and then I ran the Commanders Challenge on September 18, 2016. So, I ran the 5k and then about half an hour later I ran the Half Marathon. It was quite the opportunity, it was quite a challenge, but I did it.

‘Seeing the veterans, the spectators and everybody kind of comes together and we acknowledge the sacrifices and the triumphs and the victories and the consequences of conflict.’

Ryan, on the Canada Army Run.

How many Canada Army Runs have you run? 

I think my first year was 2014 and 2016 was the first year for the Commander’s Challenge, and I’ve completed the event every year since, and I’m competing again completing the Commander’s Challenge this year on September 17, 2023.

What so special about the event?

For me, it’s the community the atmosphere is quite special. It’s quite unique. I know a lot of people, myself included, who have a lot of family members past and present that are you know, their lives are forever intertwined with the Canadian Armed Forces, I think it’s a really nice tribute, and seeing the young kids, seeing the families, seeing the veterans, the spectators and everybody kind of comes together and we acknowledge the sacrifices and the triumphs and the victories and the consequences of conflict. I think it’s important to recognise all those things, because truly nobody wins, right? In any sort of conflict. There are no winners. It’s all bad. For me, this is personal, it’s a time to reflect as well. I remember my dad, I remember my grandfather, I never knew my great grandfather, but I think about him. And not just my own family, but I think about all those poor souls who made the ultimate sacrifice so that I can run in a free democratic area.

How important is the Dog Tag medal?

You look at them and you know the purpose of them. It’s very personal, I think about the active service personnel as well as people from previous eras who who had to wear them, and what is signifies, and what it represents. It is a deeply personal item. It’s a very valuable item, to everyone that’s involved in you know, Canadian, military, American military, whatever military it is. It’s our identification, so it’s very personal, and to be able to, as a civilian, get a replica of it is the closest thing I’ll ever get.

What extra significance does the iTAB give it?

It’s the closest thing I’ll ever get to a dog tag with my name on it, you know? It was a long time ago now, but I did register, I did sign up for the Canadian Armed Forces. I got accepted into the Navy as a logistics officer. That was my goal. I did the aptitude testing, the training and all that sort of stuff, and then I remember receiving a letter in the mail, saying that because of my eye disease, keratoconus, that unfortunately I would be removed from consideration, and that I wouldn’t be able to continue on with my goal and my dream of joining unless my surgeon signed documentation stating that my eye disease was stable. But unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get it, so the iTAB Dog Tag medal is the closest thing that I’m gonna get.

What are your future goals?

I’ll never win. Let’s be honest, for me, it’s the goal to complete something and the marathon is challenging so I’d love to get a few more under my bel. I’d love to do an Ultra Marathon or something. There’s an event in Scottsdale, Arizona, and it happens every year on the hottest day of the year, at the hottest time of the year. I would love to do that. I think it’d be a lot of fun. I think it’s something to work toward but it’s tough, it’s tough for a reason.