Born this day in 1969: Marla Runyan (b. 1969), first legally blind athlete on an Olympic team
Marla Runyan, a native of California, developed a form of macular degeneration, called Stargardt Disease, at age 9. As a result, she became legally blind. Nonetheless she was an active child, playing violin, horseback riding, and playing at soccer, gymnastics, and running.
Runyan earned a BS in Education of the Deaf and an MS in Education of Deaf-Blind Children from San Diego State University (1994). While working on her degrees she did gymnastics and, until her vision worsened, played soccer. She was also a track and field athlete, and competed in many events, including the heptathlon, shot put, long jump, and 800-meter run.
In 1992 she won four gold medals in the Barcelona Paralympic Games in sprinting (3) and the long jump (1). In 1996 she won an additional gold (pentathlon) and a sliver (shot-put) at the Atlanta Paralympic Games.
Wishing to become an Olympian, Runyan pursued middle-distance running. In 1999 Runyan won the 1500m in the Pan-American games. The following year she earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, becoming the first legally blind athlete to compete in the Olympic games. She finished 8th in the 1500m, the highest ranking of an American women in that event. She then took up long-distance running and in 2002 placed fourth, and top American, in the New York City marathon. In 2004 she returned to compete in the Olympics. She holds championship spots in several other marathons and track events, as well.
Runyan is currently an ambassador for the Perkins School for the Blind and a sought-after motivational speaker. The Marla Runyan Camarillo Half Marathon and 5K is named in her honor.
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