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Tough Choices at the Tragic Boston Marathon

by David Bloch, Ardmore, Pennsylvania

EDITOR'S NOTE: A couple of months before the Boston Marathon's scheduled date in mid-April, David Block asked if I could help him arrange for press credentials to cover the race. Happy as I was to have him write about the event for DIALOGUE, I had to explain sadly that we lacked the funds to sponsor his trip. The application for credentials was a fairly complex set of documents, implying that a great many people seek special access to race participants and facilities.

The credentials were approved, and I made sure David knew where to pick them up, looking forward to his later report on a race which now boasts 40 participants with little or no sight.

On the day of the race, the knowledge that David Block might be somewhere at or near the finish line added considerably to our shock and outrage at the terrible events in Boston. Needless to say, the welcome news that he was safe and unharmed brought me a wave of relief and gratitude--a feeling no doubt experienced by many in conjunction with this year's Boston Marathon.

* * *

Feeling Uneasy

On April 15, the day the terrorists wrought havoc, I was in Boston to cover the 117th running of the Boston Marathon for DIALOGUE. As I waited at the finish line to interview a few sight-impaired runners, something felt terribly wrong, though nothing unusual had yet occurred. In my 24 years as a reporter, this was the first time that I felt a strong compulsion to go home before completing all my interviews.

I rushed back to the Copley Center's media room, grabbed some results, and phoned Amtrak. My train was scheduled to leave at 9:30 PM that night, but I wanted to go back to Philadelphia ASAP. I could take a 3:25 PM train from the Back Bay Station, but it would cost an additional $55.

Instead of asking the hotel doorman to hail me a cab, I asked him to point me in the direction of the Back Bay Station. When he told me that it was just a block and a half away, I took off on foot. Because of my limited vision, I usually take cabs in unfamiliar cities. In this case, the urge to leave Boston was stronger than my fear of getting lost.

Even though I had more than an hour before my train departed, I rushed to the station as if I were running for the last train of the night. I don't know where these irrational fears came from, but I kept thinking, "get me the h*** out of Boston!"

At the ticket counter, I gladly handed over the $55, even though the price was too high for my tight budget. When the train arrived, I rushed on, took a seat, and breathed a huge sigh of relief once we pulled out of the city.

It was only then that I heard the grim news of the premeditated explosions that visited death, pain and terrible loss on a day dedicated to the challenge, courage and joy of striving. My out-of-character compulsion to leave a reporting job unfinished now seemed providential.

At first, writing about the runners who escaped injury felt inappropriate. I thought that the people who helped the victims deserved more recognition than the runners. Then I realized that not penning anything about the race itself would be a victory for the terrorists. In that same spirit, I have decided to return next year to cover the 2014 Boston Marathon.

Top Blind Finishers

Aaron Scheidies, 31, of Seattle, Washington, was the first sight-impaired man to finish the Boston Marathon in two hours, 44 minutes, and 31 seconds. It was his best marathon time. His previous best--2:48:19--was at the 2011 California International Marathon. It had taken him over a year to set a new personal record, but his intense training and conditioning paid off.

"I was having a great day," said Scheidies, who works as a physical therapist. Nearly two hours after he crossed the finish line, he and some friends were having lunch just outside of Boston. "We suddenly saw ambulances and fire trucks and wondered, 'What's going on?'" They turned on the radio and heard the shocking news.

Unfortunately, friends and relatives of some of his lunch companions were casualties. Being the first sight-impaired man to cross the finish line seemed insignificant on a day of such unspeakable sadness and loss.

Scheidies has Stargardt's disease, a common form of inherited juvenile macular degeneration, which causes vision loss because of the death of photoreceptor cells in the central portion of the retina, the macula. "I mainly see blurry blobs and dots," said Scheidies.

He will definitely run the Boston Marathon next year. Like other runners, his reason for returning is to overcome the fear of terrorism.

Amy McDonaugh, 35, of Irmo, South Carolina, was the first sight-impaired woman to finish the Boston Marathon, with a time of 2:52:05. McDonaugh's first guide runner struggled to keep up with her. Unfortunately, he dropped out just past the four-mile mark, so she had to run by herself for awhile. "I wasn't mad at him for quitting because he tried his best," said McDonaugh, "but I was shaken up."

She worried that she would fail to spot her second guide at the 10K mark. She also worried about bumping into other runners or tripping over them as she has sometimes done in races she ran alone.

After her first guide runner quit, two nearby runners realized that she had a serious vision problem, so they ran with her until the 10K spot. "They really helped me," said a grateful McDonaugh.

She hit 10K at 38:42. Her second guide, Andy Sovonick of Gaithersburg, Maryland, stepped in and ran with her until the finish line.

"Andy guided me before," said McDonaugh. "We work well together because we're both very competitive. He'll always tell me if I'm about to pass another woman or sight-impaired runner or if they're gaining on me."

Cover your right eye and then press a paper towel tube into your left eye. That's how McDonaugh sees the world. She can't always see the runners in front of her, but she can usually identify their shirt colors and she can tell if a runner has long hair. Her vision problem is due to arteriovenous malformation, an abnormal tangle of blood vessels.

The tragedy in Boston also fueled McDonaugh with determination to run the Boston Marathon next year. "If I were to be discouraged about racing or returning to Boston, then I'd be discouraged about going to movies or sending my kids to school," said McDonaugh. "Something like that (the explosions) can happen anywhere. We can't live in fear."

Scheidies and McDonaugh will be two key sight-impaired runners to watch at next year's Boston Marathon.


First) Aaron Scheidies 2:44:31;

Second) Thomas Brand 3:13:33;

Third) Slawomir Jezowski 3:25.20


First) Amy McDonaugh 2:52:05;

Second) Lisa Thompson 3:21:46;

Third) Jennifer Herring 3:44:54

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