Randy Pierce with his guide dog, Autumn, at WBUR (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Note: This post has been updated.
In 1989, Randy Pierce was fresh out of college, living in southern New Hampshire and working happily as a computer hardware designer. One day in fencing class, his instructor noticed that his blind spot was oddly enlarged. You need to go to the doctor, the instructor said. Today.
A neurological disease was attacking Pierce’s optic nerve. Within two weeks he had lost all the sight in his right eye, and half the sight in his left. In the following years, he lost the last remnants of his sight, and damage to his cerebellum destroyed his balance, landing him in a wheelchair.
On Monday, he ran the Boston Marathon. And he turned in a personal marathon best: 3 hours, 50 minutes and 37 seconds for the 26.2-mile course.
Pierce, 48, ran on Team With A Vision, which supports the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. He ran to raise money — and to make a point, about what he calls “ability awareness.”
“I have a disability — I can’t see,” he says. “We all have disabilities, things that we can’t do. I think it’s so much more important to put the focus of our lives on things we can do. And if something is important enough to you, I say anything is possible, you’re just going to have to problem-solve and persevere to get there.”
An example of problem-solving: Last year, Pierce became the first blind American to complete a Tough Mudder obstacle course, and last month he repeated the feat. (See the video below.)
From a platform 25 feet high, he had to leap out about 8 feet, grab a T-shaped, trapeze-like bar, swing farther out and release his grip at just the right moment to hit a remote hanging bell before plunging down into the muddy water below. He used his cane to feel for where the T-bar was, to form a mental image of it, and friends’ descriptions of where the bell was hanging.
The crowd went wild.
“You know, those are just moments — every one of those people out there would have told you this is impossible. Now they won’t,” Pierce says. “They’ll believe me when I say everything’s possible — or they’ll believe in themselves, which is the more important part.”
As for the perseverance Pierce talks about, he used it to fight his way out of the wheelchair that he occupied “for one year, eight months and 21 days — which tells you how I feel about it. Pretty challenging.”
Pierce’s wife, Tracy, says that somehow, his struggles and losses led him to adopt the supremely positive attitude that uplifts him now. Continue reading