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First-ever guide dog cross country runner looks to join college cross country team

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

Sami Stoner has already broken through barriers, becoming the first sanctioned legally blind cross country runner to compete with a guide dog as a member of the Lexington (Ohio) High girls cross country team. In the process she has become a national celebrity, appearing on "Good Morning America" and serving as the focus of an ESPN profile for which a camera crew spent eight days living with her family and following her every move.

Now Stoner and her dedicated guide dog Chloe are aiming to take her incredible and inspiring running feat to a new level, announcing that she hopes to compete collegiately in fall 2013 for Otterbein University, where she hopes to matriculate.

Stoner's hopes of being a part of a collegiate cross country team were first reported by the Mansfield News Journal, which was also the first source to report on Stoner's performance for the Lexington junior varsity team in 2011 when she was a junior.

Stoner suffers from a rare form of macular degeneration known as Stargardt disease, a condition which began to rob her of her sight at age 14. Each year the teenager loses progressively more sight, and she now struggles to see anything at all without visual aids.

Out of Stoner's Stargardt condition has come a touching relationship with Chloe, a golden retriever who now serves as Stoner's ever-present companion to ensure she safely gets from one place to the next … or from the start of a race to the end.

For her part, Stoner now says she can't believe how far her celebrity has come in the 18 months since her story first gained public awareness. Most happily, her father says that he is confident she will be able to go through life without any significant limitations.

"I'm surprised by some of the attention," Keith Stoner told the News Journal. "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.

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

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