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Legally blind runner's story is still reaching new audiences

4:21 PM, Nov. 13, 2012 EST

Lexington senior Sami Stoner (front right) and her guide dog Chloe pose with the Lexington girls cross country team after Lady Lex took second at the Division II state championships Nov. 3 at National Trail Raceway in Kirkersville. Stoner and Chloe were junior varsity runners on the squad the last two years. / Jason J. Molyet/News Journal


Sami Stoner's story hasn't gotten old yet. In fact, there are more chapters to go.

The legally blind Lexington girl who a year ago became the first sanctioned athlete to compete with a guide dog in high school cross country in Ohio continues to tell her inspirational tale.

"I never dreamed from that one initial article that it would spread to become such a huge deal. We never imagined anything like that would ever come of it," she said after watching her Lexington teammates finish as Division II state runners-up at National Trail Raceway on Nov. 3.

From that News Journal story published Oct. 15, 2011, Stoner has gone national, appearing on "Good Morning America," plus several radio shows from coast to coast as well as magazine articles and Web sites. She's also gone local, being a favorite speaker for Boy Scout troops and Lions Club meetings.

Thirteen months later she hasn't tired of talking about breaking barriers with her trusted companion Chloe, her golden retriever guide, while adjusting to life with Stargardt disease -- a juvenile form of macular degeneration that started when she was in the eighth grade.

She laughs at the assertion the two are celebrities, but the latest national attention came from an extensive piece by ESPN's "E:60." Producers and staff spent eight days with the Stoners over three separate occasions to chronicle her life as a senior runner at Lexington and interview those closest to her.

It aired in the middle of October.

"They really did a nice job and it was incredible watching it," Stoner said. "We got incredible responses. We've heard so much everywhere we go. People are asking about it (the E:60 piece). Even when we go out of town, people recognize us. It's kind of strange actually, but it's a lot of fun."

Her father Keith said the last 13 months have gone by quickly.

"I'm surprised by some of the attention," he said. "I'm proud of what she's done with it. She's affected a lot of people. One little girl told her she was on the fence about running cross country, but said after watching her run that if she could do it so can I. It all started with Sami coming home and saying I want to keep running.

"I don't see a lot of limitations in her future."

Indeed the future looks bright for Stoner and Chloe, this year's homecoming queen and princess at Lexington. She will likely attend Otterbein University in Westerville next year with the hopes of studying psychology and running on the cross country team. The family will meet with Otterbein coaches at the end of the month to discuss it.

She'll continue with her speaking engagements and her volunteer work as well as tutoring and mentoring a young student with impaired sight at a Lexington elementary school.

As for the next barrier, it could involve driving a car. This summer Stoner may become a part of a program at Ohio State to help those with low vision to drive.

"She's working hard to make a difference," her father said. "She says I want to say thanks."

Added Stoner: "I can't even wrap my head around how much support we have. It's been so incredible. We're lucky to have it."



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