TD Cares: How Tyrrell Schmidt is enabling persons with disabilities the chance to marathon

TD Cares is a series that profiles colleagues who are doing amazing community service that has widespread impact.  


Tyrrell Schmidt's most memorable races aren't the ones in which she ran her fastest miles.   

The event that stands out the most for her was the Dopey Challenge Marathon at Disney World when she served as one of two running guides for Cedric King, who lost both his legs after stepping on an improvised explosive device while serving in Afghanistan.

"It was very emotional. All of the support we got from people on the course was simply amazing," she said. "It took us seven and a half hours to finish, and everyone, including the other runners, were cheering us on the entire time."

Schmidt is TD's global brand and customer experience officer, based in Toronto. She started running 30 years ago, and it has been an important part of her life ever since. She even started dating her husband training for a half marathon.

Six years ago, Schmidt decided to volunteer as a guide to runners with disabilities, many of whom are blind or visually impaired, where they run together in marathons and half marathons. Her experience has enriched her life and makes it worth waking up at 6 a.m. on cold mornings to train with the person she is guiding to ensure they work well together on race day.

"I get nervous every time I run as a guide," Schmidt said. "I feel an obligation to not let my athlete down. But the crowds keep you up and people are so inspired. Volunteering makes a positive difference to someone else, but I get way more out of it."

The Achilles Hope & Possibility Road Race in NYC 

Schmidt is looking forward to her next race – the 17th Annual Achilles Hope & Possibility Road Race sponsored by TD – on Sunday, June 23 in New York City's Central Park. This event is among the world's largest road races to bring together athletes both with and without disabilities. It is overseen by New York Road Runners (NYRR) and Achilles International, whose mission is to enable people with all types of disabilities to participate in mainstream running events.

Schmidt also serves as a board member for Achilles. She earned the 2018 Achilles Volunteer of the Year Award for her work with the organization. In her professional life, diversity marketing is a priority for Schmidt, so she was excited to bring together Bank leaders who serve with her on TD's customer and colleague experience inclusion and diversity team to make this great opportunity with Hope & Possibility a reality.

READ: TD Cares: Why one TD employee scaled the Himalayas for veterans in need

Along with serving as a guide, Hope & Possibility will also be a family affair for Schmidt as her husband and daughters are also participating.

"I couldn't be more proud," she said about the partnership. "I think of TD's vision of inclusion, and how Hope and Possibility is the epitome of what it means to be included, to bring people with diverse abilities together."

Lessons learned as running guide have been invaluable

Schmidt generally trains with runners she will be guiding for several months before an event to ensure they are ready as a team on race day. She's received invaluable lessons from her partnerships including learning how to better understand different individual preferences, which has helped immensely in her leadership role at TD.

"I've learned to focus on what people do have, not what they don't," she said. "For leadership, it's important to be curious, not to be afraid to ask questions."

She noted that sometimes things don't go to plan while serving as a running guide, so it helps to have a sense of humour and multiple guides. One memorable experience still provides her with a good laugh years later.

Schmidt was matched for a half marathon at Disney World with a runner with autism and Tourette syndrome who had been known to leave behind his running guides because of his fast speeds. Indeed, he took off without Schmidt a few miles before the finish line, at which point she was very thankful to have been told earlier that he was entirely capable of finishing on his own.

"I was the only person running with a shirt that said 'Guide,' but with no one to guide," she said with a laugh. He was waiting for her at the finish line—and fortunately she's never had that happen again.

Beyond the inspiring and fun stories, Schmidt's experience as a running guide has provided invaluable gifts to her.

"As a running guide, you are someone else's eyes," she said. "You're constantly on the look-out for obstacles and other runners, and throughout are describing the scene around them. Working with Achilles and as a running guide is one of the best parts of my life. It's so important to me and I am very grateful for the incredible trust that my running partners place in me and for the lifelong friendships and bonds that we have created through these shared experiences."