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Together in stride

Together in stride

Shannon Shelton Miller April 25, 2024

At 70, Steve Wirick ’78 has blazed many trails in running.


He’s finished more than 50 marathons and 100 ultramarathons since discovering the sport at age 42. He ran his 22nd JFK 50 Mile race in 2023 and plans to continue his streak of finishing every Air Force Marathon since 1997. Wirick and his wife, Carol, volunteer at local races, and the Ohio River Road Runners Club named him male volunteer of the year in 2023.

Running also helped him find a calling as an advocate for people with disabilities. When Wirick became a guide for a blind runner in 2016, he grew more aware of the obstacles such runners face navigating everyday life. Since then, he’s worked to help in multiple ways — from assisting friends and church members to helping UD students working on engineering projects for the blind.

Dee Char, 62, was born with a retinal degenerative disease that took away most of her sight in her 20s. A past marathon finisher, Char started running with guides in her 50s and wanted to train for an ultramarathon. Wirick offered to be her guide.

“While I helped her, I think she changed me more than anything,” said Wirick, a retired engineer.

That summer, they ran multiple times a week on trails at Sugarcreek MetroPark outside Dayton, racking up hundreds of miles. After their runs, he’d sometimes take her to get groceries and run errands.

“We found a good balance,” Char said, describing the experience as an ongoing “dialogue and dance”  to figure out what worked best. “He was so dedicated to my training; his commitment to get me out there to run was the only way I was able to do this.”

Wirick also would learn about the line between helping and being patronizing, even if his concern was well-meaning. When Char would fall, a common occurrence for trail runners, she was the one who put Wirick at ease.

“Steve, it’s going to happen,” Char would tell him. “Steve sees a problem and wants to fix it. I had to teach him that sometimes you can’t fix it, but you find a way to work with it.”

“Seeing how people with disabilities go through life gives you a different perspective. I just try to help where I can.”  

Wirick’s engineering mind continued trying to make things work. The following year, he pitched a senior design project idea to UD’s  School of Engineering to create an audible device to help people who are blind get around indoor spaces. He and Char were consultants on the project.

Wirick later began helping Larry Smith, who’s been blind since birth, with household needs, transportation and more. Smith, 85, was an avid runner himself, and Wirick helped guide Smith as he walked miles for exercise.

At St. Christopher Catholic Church in Vandalia, Ohio, Wirick organizes a monthly sensory Mass for those with special needs and serves as Right to Life coordinator. He’s also involved with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Office for Persons with Disabilities and helped get sign language interpreters at the sensory Mass.

“Seeing how people with disabilities go through life gives you a different perspective,” Wirick said. “I just try to help where I can.”  


Illustration by Lars Leetaru.

North of Dayton