The Optimist Citizen
Blind athlete olympics

The inspiring story of the first blind athlete to compete in the Olympics

Marla Runyan is an American track and field athlete, road runner and marathon runner who is the first legally blind athlete to compete in the Olympics. She is a three-time national champion in the women’s 5000 meters. She also won four gold medals at the 1992 Summer Paralympics in the long jump and the 100, 200, and 400 meter races. She attempted to qualify for the “Able Bodied” Olympics at the 1996 U. S. Olympic Trials, finishing 10th in the Heptathlon. While failing to qualify, she ran the 800 meters in 2:04.60, a heptathlon-800m American record. This success convinced her to try distance running. At the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta, she took silver in the shot put and gold in the pentathlon.

Blind athlete olympics

Her career as a world-class runner in able-bodied events began in 1999 at the Pan American Games, where she won Gold in the 1,500-meter race. The next year, she placed eighth in the 1,500-meter in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, making Runyan the first legally blind athlete to compete in the Olympics and the highest finish by an American woman in that event.

“As a person with any challenge, you make your strengths more visible. If you want to be known for whom you are as a person, then your responsibility it to make your qualities more visible. I believe if you don’t you are becoming a victim. If all you do is make excuses, then that is how people see you. Make your strengths visible.” Marla said to a leading international daily.

Blind athlete olympics

“My parents didn’t know what to expect from me. I felt the expectations fall. People would say: ‘Do the best you can and I thought: ‘What if my best is pretty damn good!’ I was probably already pretty competitive. I said: ‘I can do this. I just had to do it differently”, she added.

She is currently teaching at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts where she is inspiring hundreds of others with limiting capabilities to dream. She is a perennial example of a fight to lead a life that is normal and is not encapsulated by disabilities. Her string of achievements stand as a beacon of hope for millions across the world.


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