Marla Runyan placed third in the qualifying trials for the Women's 1500 meters earning a spot on the 2000 U.S. Olympic team the first time a legally blind person has ever accomplished such a feat. Diagnosed with Stargard's Disease as a child, Marla has been legally blind for 20 years; but she refuses to consider her blindness a handicap. "It is not a factor or an excuse for a bad race" she says. Marla's performance in the Olympics stands as a testimony to what can be achieved through determination and hard work.
In the ensuing years Runyan not only earned a driver's license, straight "As" and a master's degree in special education, but in September, the 31-year-old, legally blind runner competed in the 1500-meter finals at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
"My doctor never said anything about the Olympics," Runyan quipped to a large crowd at the Nov. 11 Macular Degeneration and Low Vision Expo, sponsored by the Casey Eye Institute.
Olympic runner Marla Runyan (right), who is legally blind, has been an inspiration to youngsters and their families facing similar vision-loss challenges.
Runyan, the featured speaker at the event, admitted she never expected her athletic achievements to affect the lives of those who suffer vision loss. "I always thought making the Olympics was only a personal goal. I never thought I'd impact so many," she said, adding that she has since received countless e-mails and letters from visually impaired people throughout the world.
"So many of the letters are from parents whose children have Stargardt's (a juvenile form of macular degeneration), asking me what to do, because their child is going legally blind," Runyan said.
Based on her experience, Runyan tells them to allow their child to try whatever they want to try. "The future is not written and you have control about how you respond to the vision loss," she said. "Your child will show you what he or she wants to do."
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