Marla Runyan

Meet the extraordinary athlete and runner Marla Runyan. Diagnosed blind after contracting Stargardt's Disease. Winner of 5 Gold medals in the 1992 Barcelona Para Olympics’. The first disabled woman to compete in the 2000 Summer Olympic Games. In 2002 Marla held three US 1500m running titles and was No1 in the US for the 5000m and marathon. Author of "No Finish Line: My Life as I See It" and ambassador for the Perkins School for the Blind.
"We all have disabilities whether it’s a physical disability or not.”  Marla Runyan

Marla Runyan
Image credit: Victah Sailer via Marla Runyan
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Why Marla Runyan is Extraordinary

Marla Runyan has achieved Academic and Olympic excellence while being legally blind.

Marla competed in the able-bodied Olympics, Sydney 2000 and secured 8th place on the track in the 1,500m. This inspirational achievement proves that physical disability does not define who you are. “We all have disabilities whether it’s a physical disability or not,” says Marla who never thinks of her blindness as an impediment to being a great athlete. Marla shows that through one’s dedication, perseverance, passion, and self-belief what may at first seem impossible can be made possible.

Marla has also used her achievements and public profile to give back to the community by being a teacher, mentor, motivator, and educator to others with physical disabilities. This is through her ambassadorship with the Perkins School for the Blind, her assistance with Camp Able, her promotion of the half marathon named in her honor (The Marla Runyan Camarillo Half Marathon and 5K), or as a celebrity speaker.

Marla Runyan has released her autobiography, "No Finish Line: My Life as I See It," in 2002. Sally Jenkins helped her tell her story to the public. Lance Armstrong had this to say about her so-called disability: "Blind? I think there's no doubt that Marla Runyan can see things much clearer than most of us with 20/20 vision." Her book tells of her story as a child being diagnosed with Stargardt's disease and how she mustered the courage to still live normally despite her physical disability.

As long as we truly believe, persistently work, and see the challenges as gifts not obstacles, we all have the opportunity to become extraordinary.

Top Reasons why Marla Runyan is Extraordinary

  1. The first legally blind athlete who competed with able-bodied elite sports professionals.
  2. Secured 8th place in the 1,500m event during the able-bodied Sydney 2000 Olympics.
  3. Survived and excelled in sports even after having been diagnosed with Stargardt's disease as a child.
  4. Won a total of five Gold medals in the 1992 Barcelona Women’s 100m, 200m, and 400m, 1992 Women's Long Jump, and 1992 Women's Pentathlon Paralympics.
  5. Won one Silver medal in Women's Shot Put in the 1996 Paralympic Games.
  6. Won Gold in the 1500m run at Winnipeg.
  7. Marla completed the New York Marathon in 2.27.10 coming in fourth place in 2002, making her the fastest American in the race and the second fastest woman ever to compete and finish the race.
  8. She currently holds the Paralympics World Records in the B3 division in the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, and 1500m, High Jump, Long Jump and Pentathlon.
  9. She serves as an Ambassador for the Perkins School for the Blind, the first school solely dedicated for the blind in the United States.
  10. Is a successful motivational speaker.

Biography of Marla Runyan

Date of Birth: Saturday, 04 January 1969 | Born in:  / Nationality: United States of America

Marla Runyan – National and Olympic Athlete

Marla has won a total of five Gold medals in the 1992 Barcelona Paralympic Games: Women’s 100m, 200m, and 400m, Long Jump, and Pentathlon. She also won one Silver medal in the Shot Put in the 1996 Paralympic Games. In the 1999 Pan American Games, Marla took home the Gold in the 1500m.

Marla contested the able-bodied US Olympic trials in 1996 in the heptathlon, finishing 10th before successfully contesting the trials for the able-bodied US Team to the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Marla went on to finish 8th in the 1500m in the Sydney Olympics.

This achievement made Marla the first ever legally blind athlete to compete with able-bodied athletes in an Olympic Games.

Marla continued competing after the Sydney Olympics. In 2001 winning the women’s 5000m in the US National Titles, and in 2002 winning the 10,000m title.

The following year, Marla won the 20km US National Title event as well as the 5000m event. She then again competed in the 2004 able-bodied Olympics, not progressing past the heats stage of the 5000m.

In 2006 Marla won the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis in the time of 2.32.15 and also the US National Championships in the 20km event.

New York and Boston Marathons

In 2002, Marla competed in the New York Marathon and completed the race in 2.27.10 coming in fourth place. It made her the fastest American in the race and the second fastest woman ever to compete and finish the race. She also placed 5th in the Boston Marathon.

USATF Runner of the Year.

In 2002 and 2006 Marla Runyan was awarded the USA Track and Field’s Runner of the Year.

Private Life

At the age of nine Marla’s vision started to degenerate leading to a diagnosis of Stargardt’s disease (a form of macular degeneration). This disease allows for some peripheral vision, but no forward vision.

Marla attended Adolfo Camarillo High School, where she graduated in 1987. Marla then went on to complete a Bachelor of Education from the University of San Diego, followed in 1994 by a Master’s Degree in the Education of the Deaf and Blind also from the University of San Diego.

In 2002 Marla married her Coach - Matt Lonergan. In 2005, Marla took the year off to give birth to her daughter, Anna Lee.

Today, Marla Runyan, although retired from elite competitive running, continues to serve as an Ambassador for the Perkins School for the Blind which she has been doing since 2001. The Perkins School is the first school solely dedicated to teaching the blind in the United States.

Quotes by Marla Runyan

The conditions I have are not who I am.
A poor attitude can be far more disabling than blindness.
On blindness: “It is not a factor or an excuse for a bad race.
We all have challenges whether it’s a physical disability or not.
I’m not going to give up. Perseverance and attitude is what it’s all about.
As long as I can see the ground underneath my feat I can run with the best of them.
I learned from my mom that no matter what obstacles came my way, I still had a choice on how to respond.
I can do this; it might take me a little longer than you and I might have to do it a different way, but I can do this.
I can’t see the finish line it just gives me all the more reason to run harder, faster because once I’m there I’ll be able to see it.
Growing up with a vision impairment, I tended to view just about everything as a mini challenge and perceived these tasks as opportunities.



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