Walking challenge leads to strong bond for McKinney, Cohen
A twice-a-week walking challenge at Bolivar Intermediate School has led to a volunteer experience and a friendship for two Bolivar R-1 School District students, Bolivar High School junior Tracen McKinney and BIS student Rachel Cohen, who is blind.
BIS hosts the 100 Mile Club on Tuesday and Thursday mornings when students at the school walk around the school’s track. The goal is to walk 100 miles before the end of the school year.
McKinney said the idea to help out came from Coach Vicki Newcomb, who brought it up to the whole cross country team. The idea to help Cohen was something that McKinney wanted to do before he even heard she was blind.
“She said that there was an amazing young girl at the intermediate school who wanted to join the 100 Mile Club,” McKinney said. “She then said that this girl needed somebody who would walk with her because she was blind. I was already interested in helping out before I was told about her being blind, but once I heard that she was blind, I knew that this was something I needed to do.”
McKinney said he is visually impaired in one eye himself. Even though he said it does not affect him, he just knew helping Cohen was something he had to do.
“It allows me to know what blindness is (like) in some respect,” McKinney said. “This really made my heart tug toward helping her because I knew that the small sacrifice I would make would mean a ton to her.”
McKinney has helped Cohen by simply holding her hand during the walks and offering conversation as they round the track. His actions have not gone unnoticed by some of the high school’s staff.
"I am so proud of Tracen,” said Bolivar cross country coach Ron Bandy. “I was blessed to have had Rachel in summer school a few years ago. Meeting her then was such a treat. She is a spark of light and energy and fun to be around. Inspiring to work with. Tracen has been in my program now for five years. He is a genuine soul. I love having him as part of my team.”
The early hours are something McKinney said he is not a fan of, but he is happy to make an exception every Tuesday and Thursday.
Cohen said she looks forward to the walks and the chance to talk to McKinney.
McKinney appreciates the chance to walk with Cohen, as it has developed into a friendship both cherish. He said he enjoys Cohen’s “optimistic personality.”
“She's always happy and cheerful and is an absolute blast to talk to,” McKinney said. “She has a super friendly personality, and it helped make our friendship form so quickly. Rachel's personality is the reason I enjoy spending time with her in the mornings. I never expected such an amazing friendship to emerge, but our friendship is even stronger than I could've imagined.”
McKinney has called the experience of working with Cohen, “the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my life.”
“I remember thinking to myself that walking with Rachel would be an amazing thing to do,” he said. “But I never imagined how amazing it'd truly be.
"Not only have I done something for Rachel that will mean a lot to her, but I've also subsequently done something amazing for myself. Since I have started walking with Rachel, I've honestly been even happier than normal. At the end of every week, I feel fulfilled because I have done something that's made a difference in somebody's life."
"Words cannot truly describe the feeling I get from helping her, and I believe that more people should know this feeling. Something that may take little effort, such as going to see a family member, noticing if a friend is having a bad day or just showing somebody that you care for them, could mean the absolute world to them.”
McKinney was a part of the state qualifying BHS boys cross country team last season, finishing 34th at Jefferson City. He plans to attend college after graduating next year and go into the medical field.
“I'm undecided on if I for sure want to become a doctor. All I know for sure is that I want to do something that will have a positive impact on people's lives,” McKinney said. “That's how I want to be remembered. For my contributions and helpfulness to others. I'd say that if that's how you're remembered, you have definitely done good in life.”
As of February, McKinney and Cohen had completed just over 25 miles of the 100-mile goal.
“Seeing him interact with Rachel and share this time with her fills my heart and confirms what I already knew about Tracen,” Bandy said. “He is a great young man.”