Fearless Woman of the Week: Marla Runyan

Bellin Health Physical Therapist and Wednesday training run co-leader Lisa Reinke offers the latest installment in this inspirational blog series

Despite laying out my running clothes the night before in anticipation of an early morning run, sometimes they just sit there all day. This happened this past week. My son was up in the middle of the night, for no reason of course, which stole a good two hours of my sleep and led me to sleep in. Some would find that a pretty legitimate excuse, but it cost me the ability to get in a training run at all that day.

There are a lot of things that can keep a woman from running. Some excuses no one sympathizes with: I’m too busy, I’m too tired. Then there are the reasons we all say, I totally get it: I’m in pain, I have a medical condition, I’m pregnant, I’m blind. Blind? Marla Runyan didn’t let that hold her back from running.  

And boy did she run.

This week’s Fearless Woman of the Week is Marla Runyan. Marla is an American-born runner who was diagnosed at age 9 with Stargardts disease, a juvenile form of macular degeneration that causes vision loss. Marla began competing in track and field events at San Diego State University, and after graduation moved on to a post-collegiate running career. She fell short of making the Olympic Team for track and field in 1996 but won five gold medals in the 1992 and 1996 Paralympics, setting world records for the visually impaired classification.

Despite falling short of her goal in 1996, Marla continued to work on her running career. She later finished third at the Olympic Trials, making the 2000 Olympic Team for the 1500 meters and becoming the first legally blind Olympic qualifier. She again qualified for the Olympic Team in 2004, this time in the 5000 meter event.
Marla is the only American to compete in both the Paralympic and the Olympic Games.

“The manner in which we conduct ourselves, deal with the challenges before us, and treat each other reveals our character, courage and integrity—or lack thereof.” – Marla Runyan (quote from her website: marlarunyan.net)

Marla may be an extreme example, but when we look at all the challenges that face us on a daily basis, running or otherwise, we can learn a lot from someone who faced adversity and won. Maybe you’re struggling with the mental push you need on your runs — if so, come join us at our Wednesday or Saturday weekly training runs! Maybe you are really good at making excuses — my son was up AGAIN; won’t he ever sleep? (get to bed earlier, I tell myself) — or maybe it’s too warm outside (run early or later in the day). Perhaps there’s no one to watch the kids (push them in a stroller, have them bike along or have them walk/run along!). There are always solutions if you look for them. Even when it comes to examples tougher than these ones.

Marla Runyan was born legally blind. What’s your excuse?

See you Wednesday morning at the training run!


Lisa Reinke is a physical therapist with Bellin Sports Medicine who specializes in the treatment of running-related injuries and gait assessments for the injured runner. Lisa has participated in several road races, bike rides and triathlons. She is the mother to a 1-year-old little boy and is proceeding with determination and joy through the ups and downs of running as a “new” mom. You may email Lisa with any questions regarding running or walking injuries: Lisa.Reinke@bellin.org.


Category Tag(s): Running Training

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