Blind Marathon Runner Dan Berlin

Running Blind with Dan Berlin

After macular degeneration robbed him of his sight in his 30s, Dan Berlin decided he wanted to take a shot at 26.2

Blind marathoner Dan Berlin

Image: Courtesy of Dan Berlin

Would you take the risk of leaving a stable job to work for yourself? How about signing up for a marathon when you've never come close to running 26.2 miles? These are intimidating propositions for anyone, and imagine making these decisions after losing much of your sight. Dan Berlin did, and on November 6, 2011, he will run in the New York City Marathon.

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Losing His Sight

Dan developed a medical condition called macular degeneration in his early 30s and steadily lost much of his ability to see over the next few years. Macular degeneration is more common among the elderly, but rare for someone Dan's age. The disease, according to the Mayo Clinic, is "marked by the deterioration of the macula, which is in the center of the retina-the layer of tissue on the inside back wall of your eyeball." Those people with macular degeneration lose the ability to see in the center of their field of vision.

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Approaching Life

Dan says the disease prompted him to reflect on what he wanted out of life. "I came to the realization that I could either approach my 40s wishing I could do more, or I could actually get out and do it." He moved from New York to Fort Collins, CO, in the spring of 2007 to purchase and expand a vanilla extract company with two friends. "I have always wanted to do work that I enjoyed on my own terms. My eyesight failed, but my vision of what I wanted out of life did not. And over the direct objections of a caring boss who sincerely asked why I would leave a company that had great benefits and could not fire me because of my disability, I decided taking the chance was better than wondering what I would have done with perfect eyesight."

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Becoming a Marathoner

Before he developed macular degeneration, Dan ran "casually for fun," often on forest trails. His longest run was 10 miles. "As I lost much of my sight, I stopped doing many of the outdoor activities that I enjoyed. It was a tough transition." His physical conditioning deteriorated from lack of exercise, and finally he decided to begin running again. Wanting a goal to help motivate him, Dan signed up for the September 2009 Crossroads Half Marathon in Fort Collins. With the help of a local runner serving as his guide, Dan completed the race in 2:09:12. "I was beat afterward, but also hooked on running." With his guide, Dan ran part of the 2009 Rock 'n' Roll Denver Marathon on a four-person relay team. In 2010, he came back and ran the entire race, his first full marathon.

Dan still has some peripheral vision, but can't see well enough to navigate the throngs of over 45,000 runners who will join him in the New York City Marathon. He will run with a guide whose job is to protect him from other runners and any obstacles on the course. This is Dan's third marathon, and he hopes to run faster than his personal best of 3:47:00.

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Dan is running the marathon as part of Achilles International, a worldwide organization that encourages people with disabilities to participate in long-distance running with the general public. He is raising money to support the organization and is one of 250 Achilles athletes from all over the world who will run the NYC Marathon.

On his Achilles fund-raising page, Dan encourages people to break out of presumed limitations. "I would love to see others overcoming obstacles. It is such a personal battle. In looking back, the greatest limitation I put on myself was a fear of how others would perceive my abilities if they knew I couldn't see. What I learned is that it doesn't really matter what people think. This gave me the strength to break away from my own self-imposed obstacles. Looking inward is even more important than seeing outward."

If you would like, please make a donation on Dan Berlin's fund-raising page.

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