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Marla Runyon: Only YOU Can Find Your Potential
Marla Runyon was born on January 4, 1969, in Santa Maria, CA, the largest city in Santa Barbara County on California’s central coast.
Marla was very active in soccer and gymnastics, and loved to run every chance she could. Whether she was running with her dog or running while playing soccer, she says she never really started running, she just never stopped running.
In addition to gymnastics, soccer and running, Marla was very interested in all sports. When she was only 7 years old, she avidly watched the Olympic gymnasts on TV, pretending to do balance beam or floor routines. Sometimes she would walk around on her hands, and practice doing the splits. The story goes that she would finish each routine like an Olympic competitor – toes perfectly pointed and hands high above her head for the imaginary judges and cheering audience.
As the years sped by, Marla underwent some fundamental changes in her life. But they didn’t stop her from running and playing sports. In 1978, when Marla was 9, she began noticing difficulty seeing the chalkboard in class. She had to hold a page of text an inch from her face to make out the words. Marla’s parents took her to an eye specialist, where they learned she had Stargardt’s Disease – a genetic, and irreversible, juvenile eye disease which causes progressive and rapid loss of vision, usually to the point of legal blindness.
The unwavering support of her parents helped Marla find the strength to stay positive. She refused to let the disease limit her dreams. Although her vision rapidly declined, she made it through high school, rode horses, learned to play the violin, and continued to pursue her love of sports, especially running. Marla went on to San Diego State University where she not only earned her BA and MA in Special Education for kids who are deaf or blind, but competed in such events as the heptathlon, 200-meter dash, high jump, shot put, 100-meter hurdles, long jump, javelin throw and 800-meter run.
Throughout high school and college, Marla’s drive to win led her to try track and field events in the Paralympics, and then the Olympics. Despite her severe vision loss, her dedication and desire never wavered. She entered the 1992 Summer Paralympics and won four Gold Medals – 100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters and Long Jump. She also competed in cycling at the games – and keep in mind, this woman was legally blind.
She attempted to qualify for the “able bodied” Olympics, and finished 10th in the Heptathlon – seven events considered the women’s version of the men’s 10-event Decathlon. Although she failed to qualify, Marla did run the qualifying 800 meter race in a stunning 2:04.70, a Heptathlon record. Up until then she’d been running mostly shorter dashes, but her success in the 880 convinced her to try longer distance running.
At the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta, she took Gold in the five-event Pentathlon, and won a Silver medal in the shot put. And three years later, In the 1999 Pan American Games she was a sensation, winning Gold in the 1500 meters, proving she was more than capable to race distance competitions.
As a kid, running had been something she did for the sense of accomplishment, just for herself. She never considered her visual impairment to be a disability on the track. She says it made racing more difficult, but, “like everything in life, I prepare myself and practice so I know what to expect.” But Marla never suspected that she would some day run in the Olympics.
In the year 2000, she qualified for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. After her many successes at the Paralympics, and also at the “able bodied” Pan American Games, she qualified for the Olympics and became the first legally blind athlete to compete in the Olympic Games. In the 1,500 meter race, Marla went into the record books as the eighth fastest female runner in the entire world.
From that point on, Marla never looked back. Today, Marla is retired from the most major events. But her website lists some of her accomplishments, including being the Top American Finisher, among both men and women, in three classic marathons, and National Champion in another:
- 3-Time Outdoor Track National Champion, 5000m (2001 – 2003)
- 3-Time Road 5k National Champion, (2002-2004)
- Former American Record holder, Indoor 5000m 15:07.33
- 2002 NYC Marathon, 4th Place, Top American 2:27.10
- 2003 Boston Marathon, 5th Place, Top American 2:30.33
- 2004 Chicago Marathon, 7th Place, Top American 2:28.33
- 2006 Twin Cities Marathon Champion, National Champion 2:32.17
Marla has said her motivation to keep running comes from her desire to find her potential. She wants to know how fast she can run certain distances. Winning is not her goal. Most of the time she likes to concentrate on what she can train her mind and body to do. Her sense of personal achievement was even more rewarding than winning the events.
This is especially understandable for Marla, who was not only competing with other athletes, but with her own visual impairment at the same time. She has become an inspiration for others with vision impairments, and an inspiration for everyone to “go for whatever they want in life.”
Today, Marla works with kids as a Communicative Disorders Specialist, and is a popular inspirational speaker. Being in the Olympics, she says, was “an almost unreal experience”. But she says she realized that it’s “the process of working toward your goal that is the most important thing. The work you put into your goal can be even more important than reaching your goal.”
Marla’s message is loud and clear: “Get out there and enjoy life! Play hard but have fun. Don’t allow others to discourage you. Don’t listen to negative influences. Believe in yourself and show others what you can do. Only YOU can find your potential. Others are just spectators.”
At Novus, we help our patients work towards their goals to achieve a new, drug-free, alcohol-free life.
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