by Jim Price
At first glance they couldn’t be more different. Keystone is a handsome, block-headed male black Lab who appears wise and regal despite being not yet 2. His new partner has a bubbly personality but no pigment in her eyes, skin or hair so next to him she looks stark white. Kim Cosby, 18, suffers from albinism and she is mostly blind but she said none of that matters now. Together they are ready for just about anything.
She hasn’t always had that kind of confidence.
Growing up in Yuba City, California, Cosby quickly discovered how cruel kids could be. “It was very difficult for me socially,” she said, her voice dropping slightly with the memory. “The condition makes my eyes move back and forth very quickly. My hair is really white. Everybody stared at me, made fun of me, didn’t want to play with me.” She remembered long recesses with everyone else playing together while she sat on a low wall, waiting for it to end so she could get back to class. “I didn’t actually start making friends until I was in the sixth grade.”
In the eighth grade she decided to try sports. She was tall for her age so volleyball and basketball seemed natural to try. “The problem was, I couldn’t see the ball until it was just a few inches away,” she laughed. “So that didn’t work at all.” As she talked, Keystone settled for a nap on the floor at her side. They were halfway through the two-week class at the Oregon campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind. “My freshman year we had to run the mile in physical education class and my brother, who was a senior at the time, came out to watch me run. Afterwards he came up to me and said I should try out for the track team.”
That big-brother moment, just one comment from Darian, changed her life forever.
She did try out for the track team. She decided to run the 100 meter, but didn’t particularly care for it. Because her brother had asked, she decided to stick it out through one meet. To her surprise, she won. And she loved it. Three years later, she competed at the “masters level” and almost went to State in the 200m and 400m. She earned letters in track four years and cross country three years. She set six records at River Valley High School and four of them still stand. Her senior year she was captain of the girls’ teams in both sports. She earned a partial scholarship to Chico State University and this spring will be a college runner. She hopes to earn a double degree in nutrition and exercise physiology.
“For me, running is so relaxing,” she explained. “There are no worries. I can just be myself. Growing up, I hid my blindness. Nobody knew.” But hiding her disability took enormous energy. “When I’m running I can just let everything else go. It’s a great feeling.” And running brought her home. “By the time I was a junior, everyone knew I was legally blind and people would help me get around. They stopped judging me by how I looked or because I couldn’t see, and began seeing me for who I am. They became my friends and family.” Success on the track gave her the confidence to be herself.
Her track coach was happy to talk about Cosby. “She is a great kid,” said Paul Odegard, “and that’s wonderful news she’s getting a Guide Dog. The first time I met her, when she was a freshman, Kim was like this little wet kitten that just came in from the cold. Three years later she was a confident and terrific team leader.” He explained that even though she didn’t make it to State, getting to State in California is like being the best there is in most countries. “She would have been in the top two in just about any other state. She is that good.”
Cosby said the coach was a big help to her, too. “When I was running cross country he would take me out on the course before each race so I could get an idea what was coming next.” He also bought brightly colored t-shirts for the boys’ team and placed them strategically along the course to help her see which way to go. “That was a big help,” she said, smiling brightly as she remembered running along a course from t-shirt to t-shirt.
Back at class with Keystone, Cosby said she was surprised that the class was easy for her. “They sent me the instructional CDs and I listened to each one twice,” she said, “but I was nervous. It turns out things are going really well and I’m having a great time. Last night Keystone and I did a night route and my heart was racing. I couldn’t see a thing but he got us though just perfectly. It really gave me a lot of confidence in him. He’s so good. He kind of goes with my mood. If I’m calm, he’s calm. If I’m excited, he gets excited and wants to play. And he’s so fast. I love that.”
She glanced around to see if anyone was listening, then lowered her voice to a whisper: “In my opinion, he’s the best one in the class.” Keystone likely feels the same way about her.