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Hinderance, not a handicap

Woman contines to run despite being blind

August 31, 2012
Steven Schulwitz - News Staff Writer , The Alpena News

When runners step to the starting line of the Alpena Regional Medical Center's Aliferis Memorial 5K Run this morning, some of them will be sizing each other up as competition and the others will be hoping to hit their running goals - with the possible exception of a family duo who will be running in the event.

Melissa Zinke and her stepfather Mike Torok will be participating in the 5K. Zinke has been running since she was in high school, including a full marathon in Traverse City. That feat is a large accomplishment, but when combined with being blind it becomes that much more remarkable.

After losing her sight due to a common illness, Zinke ran cross country in high school and continued to run in events throughout college. After having children her attention shifted toward her family and running was put on the back burner until Torok began running to lose weight and urged his stepdaughter to resume the activity.

Article Photos

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz
Jessica Zinke is a physical therapist for the Alpena Area Regional Hospital at its satellite site in Rogers City. Although she lost her sight as a young girl it never stopped her from achieving her dreams. Today she will run a 5K while tethered to her stepfather, who started running to lose weight after being inspired by her.

Torok, who is a paramedic/firefighter for the Alpena Fire Department, said when he decided to begin running he weighed over 300 pounds and has shed more than 80 pounds. He said he used Zinke as an inspiration and that helped him not only lose weight, but push toward running in events.

"She fights for everything and never let the fact she is blind slow her down. Every time I have told her she can't do something she has proved me wrong," Torok said. "Melissa inspired me. I used to think that she could never do this and I also thought I could never do this, but I guess seeing her do her thing made me think maybe I can do this too."

Zinke said when she went blind she still had an urge to take part in athletics. She knew sports such as softball and basketball wouldn't be safe, so she chose running, and excelled at it.

"It was something I knew I could do with a little bit of help. Running just made the most sense," Zinke said. "I'm blind, but there was never anything wrong with my legs. Yes, being blind sucks, but there are still so many things you are able to do. I always say there is nothing I can't do. There are things I shouldn't do, like drive, but I'm a great driver, if I can just learn how to stay off the sidewalks."

As Torok continued to lose weight and build endurance he decided to run in events, but wanted Zinke as his partner. Zinke said there is no better partner she could having and said she is proud of what he has done to get himself more fit.

"I never thought it would be possible for is together, neither of us thought it would happen," Zinke said. "We really do feed off each other and there is no better feeling than crossing the finish line together."

Zinke, who is humble but has a strong sense of humor, said the other competitors in the races often notice the tether connecting her to Torok. She said once they find out she is blind they often share their appreciation for her effort and dedication. Zinke said she hopes others with disabilities will use her as an example, but that is not why she runs. She said she does so because she enjoys it.

"I don't see myself as inspiring," Zinke said. "I just love to run. Running with Mike makes it that much more special. Like I said, there is no better feeling then going through a run together and crossing the finish line together."

Zinke has issued her stepfather a challenge. She has no intent to quit running and hopes to push Torok even harder.

"Mike can do anything he puts his mind to and is a real go-getter," Zinke said. "I'm not going to quit running until he does a full marathon."

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 358-5689.



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