Up and Moving Again

William at the finish line of the Prickly Pear

Meet William Greer, Director of the Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival. Hear his story of finding his passions after Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and vision loss.

We discuss TBI, Ultra Marathon running, disability representation in films and that time he ran a certain Boston Marathon with NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me Host Peter Sagal.

This episode includes an original piece produced by Tilly Jones.



Show the transcript


Welcome back to another episode of Reid My Mind Radio.
I’m your host and producer, T. Reid.

Today I’m speaking with William Greer. He’s the Director of the Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival. In this episode we’re talking;
* multiple disabilities,
* disability arts
* marathon running.

That’s next up! On Reid My Mind Radio. Let’s go!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music


I was riding a bicycle, not wearing a helmet.


This is William Greer.


And I went in the middle of the street when I shouldn’t have. Nothing between me and the pavement. My brain was exposed to light air and dirt. I’m told those are the three worst things that could come in touch with the brain.

I was in intensive care for probably three or four weeks. I’m told that there were a couple of times that I was legally dead while I was still in ICU. it took a lot of therapy and patience just to get me out of the hospital and back in school.


William was only 17 and still in high school at the time of the accident which caused a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
In William’s case, the effects include a reduced ability to understand and learn math, facial paralysis…


I have poor short term memory, my balance is not as good as it used to be. The most dramatic result is the vision loss.


In order to return to school, Will would have to adjust.


Figured out new ways to take notes. Learned that I had to listen to a book rather than visually read it. graduated high school got in to Kenyon College and now I’m working full time.


In 2003, unable to find full time employment, William was volunteering for the Coalition for Texans with Disabilities when he had an idea.


Oh, we can raise money and awareness by showing films that have good representation of disability.


In 2004William produced the first festival known as Cinema Touching Disability. It began as a one day event.


We would pick out films about people who have disabilities. Sometimes they were documentaries, sometimes it was fiction film.

It started off as one art form and it sort of grown into others.


Among those included were a disability photography competition and a live re-creation of a piece of art originally produced in the documentary Getting UP.: The TEMPT One Story

Diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, almost completely paralyzed, a graffiti artist regains his voice through technology that reads
the movement of his eyes and enables him to create art and write once again.

Audio: “Marciac Master” By Tilly Jones


This year one of the people who entered my competition is someone from Australia with Cerebral Palsy and Asperger’s and a couple of other disabilities.

She plays 5 musical instruments and writes her symphonies. So I asked her to write an introductory piece for our festival. She did that. So we got the funds together and brought her over here. We had her playing music with other musicians and playing music during the intermission.

## TR:

The music you are hearing is the composition William referred to. The young musicians name is Tilly Jones.

As the years progressed the duration of the festival increased from one day to up to five days one year.

The festival like art itself serves multiple purposes that go beyond entertainment. Like representation.


We need good representation. Non stereotypical representations wherever we can get it. Whether it’s advertisements like commercials on TV. In paper representations; signs or in the ways that people with disabilities are treated in restaurants, libraries or movie theaters. When the community as a whole sees positive representation of disability it can only improve outcome and help people learn more about it.

[TR in conversation with WG:]

Do you have any favorite films about people with disabilities ? Anything that you would recommend?

Audio for each of the movies is included.


The two best disability films I’ve ever seen are;
The Best Years of Our Lives.” That was made in 1946One of the stars of it, Harold Russel, actually lost both of his hands in a training accident for World War II.

“Duet for One” which is about a music teacher who has I think its Multiple Sclerosis so she has to stop playing the violin.

Now those are the absolute best. No question about it. My favorites include “The Crash Reel” which is about a snowboarder who has Traumatic Brain Injury while trying out for the Olympics. It’s about his recovery and his desire to get back into competitive snowboarding and his family saying please don’t.

There’s “Right Footed” which is about the only armless pilot in the world. There’s lots of others that I really like

[TR in conversation with WG:]
What’s a (laughs) what’s on the bottom of your list?

There are so many of them. I really hated Memento. I think that that was a horrible representation of brain injury.

Don’t like Forrest Gump obviously.

Oh, Al Pacino was in it…

[TR in conversation with WG:]

Laughs… Scent of a Woman? Laughs…

Scent of a Woman, . I really hated that film.

Audio: sounds of a runner’s feet hitting the pavement…


William says he himself isn’t much of an artist. Growing up with horses, she’s definitely more of the outdoors type. He cycled over 30 miles at a time. I figure we can assume he’s athletic?


I’d run when I was younger. I was on the cross country and track team when I was a Freshman in High School but there were lots of things they didn’t teach you like the importance of stretching, good diet and running wound up being incredibly painful . So after my Freshman year I didn’t start running again until 2005.

[TR in conversation with WG:]

And what made you do that?

Well, just looking for a good way to stay in shape and keep myself entertained.

In terms of sports that you can do as a Visually Impaired person on your own there aren’t really a lot of them and running seems to be like the best way to go.

[TR in conversation with WG:]

A lot of people wouldn’t necessarily think that because you’re talking about outdoor running.

As we know there are degrees of vision loss. William has some usable vision that enables him to manage independent running under specific circumstances.


I can run in a straight line and I see well enough to avoid obstacles so as long as I’m going on a familiar path I don’t have a problem running.

When I’m in marathons I prefer to run with a sighted guide just so I don’t take a wrong turn.


Training with a sighted guide prior to a race is optimal. It allows the two runners to become used to the preferred guiding method.


The sighted guide enables me to concentrate on running.


William has the guide run in front providing directions about obstacles and other information like approaching hills and changes in the terrain.


Even picking up water or Gatorade from the water stops.

Todd, the person who guided me on my first 30 and 50 Ultra Marathon, we ran two or three times together.

And I’m glad we did that because an Ultra is a heck of a lot different from a marathon.

[TR in conversation with WG:]

I thought a marathon was 26 miles. You said a 30 mile and then a 50 mile?


A marathon is 26.2 miles. An ultra is anything longer than that. Most of them are on trails. the trick with an ultra is a slower pace, you also got to avoid creeks, roots, rocks, holes in the trail. there are times when you have to walk because the hill is too steep or unsafe going either uphill or downhill. It’s not the same as a marathon.


In your standard marathon runners consume water and energy gels. In an ultra, you have to consume more carbohydrates including food like nuts, bagels, burritos, pretzels and chips. The body loses a lot of salt so that needs to be replenished.


In an ultra-marathon the runners carry their own water. You’ve got to be hydrating all of the time. You either carry something like a belt that can hold 5 or 6 bottles of water, a backpack that can hold a couple of big bottles of water or something that they call a camelback which is just a pouch that you fill with water and you can drink from the whole time.

In the ultras you can stop refill on water, have a bit of food maybe stretch a little bit if you need to and then go on your way.

[TR in conversation with WG:]

Wow! Fifty and one hundred mile, you’re doing that all in one day? Laughs…


Laughs… With a hundred mile it is one day!


William has 20 marathons under his belt. In fact, since he began tracking his runs, he’s logged in over 9,000 miles.

In 2013 Williams ran the Boston Marathon with his guide, NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me host Peter Sagal.

Audio: 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing…


We finished 5 minutes before the first bomb.

That was luck as much as running skill.

## TR:

Such incidents are rare, but there are risks.

Running in his second Austin marathon without a guide, there was a change in the route and William was unaware of a natural depression in the street’s pavement.

It went down about a foot or so. I wound up going head over heels as a result of that.

It didn’t happen to the other runner because they could see it and avoid it. And that’s just one of those things where it hurts a little bit but you just got to stand up and start moving again.


Sound advice. For more than running!

If you’ve been considering starting your own personal running program, William has some advice for that too.


Buy yourself a good pair of shoes. If you can go to a store that specializes in running. You don’t have to spend 200 to 300 on running shoes especially if you’re just starting. If you got the wrong shoes it’s going to be painful. Don’t worry about having to run fast. Just run at the speed that you’re comfortable with and run on a route that you know.

The best piece of advice that I ever heard about running is if it hurts you’re doing it wrong. Just run so that it feels good.

[TR in conversation with WG:]

I think that might be a foreign concept to a lot of people… laughs…



[TR in conversation with WG:]

The average person who doesn’t run there like probably saying, why? Laughs… Why do you do this man?


You know that’s … Pause…

Because I can’t imagine not running.

There’s something about it that really feels good. And makes me feel just incredibly good right and centered. It’s a bit like an addiction. And I find that I’m always wanting to increase the distance I’m running or increase the difficulty of the race or find a different kind of challenge to add into it.

The next marathon I’m going to be in I’ll be running a 10K on Saturday and a 50K on Sunday. So yes a 50 K is challenging let’s make it extra challenging by running a 6 mile race the day before it.

Yes you’re soar but it’s a soreness that feels good.

[TR in conversation with WG:]

Have you found anything that can possibly match the feeling that you get from running? Laughing… Yoga? A good movie… laughing…


William says he gets a lot of fulfillment out of organizing the film festival but nothing compares to running.

In addition to that two day event William is planning on running a marathon in December 2019.; 100 mile Ultra

The next Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival is scheduled for October 25 & 26, 2019 in Austin Texas. For more information you can visit CTDFilmFest.org

It may not sound like it but I used to run years ago and actually enjoyed it. I never did a marathon but I can grasp why someone would find it addicting.

There’s a freedom that comes with running. Especially trails. You’re forced to be present – dodging fallen tree stumps and low hanging branches, jumping creeks and being aware of nature.

Being Blind or visually impaired, so much of the daily grind is about people and aspects of society concentrating on what they think you can’t do.

Running and other such activities can for some remind and reinforce a feeling of independence. Athletics and sports provide the opportunity to excel based on strengths while continuously improving weaknesses. Plus progress is measurable.

Unlike my addiction to chocolate!

Big shout out to Mr. William Greer. A special shout out to Cheryl Green who suggested Will to the podcast.

Cheryl’s a film maker who focuses on disability identity culture and justice. She’s an advocate for accessible media. And you’re going to meet her on an upcoming episode.

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