Would you take the risk of leaving a stable job to work for yourself? How about signing up for a marathon when you've never come close to running 26.2 miles before? Intimidating propositions for anyone, but imagine making these decisions after losing much of your sight. Dan Berlin did, and on Nov. 6, 2011, I will have the honor of serving as his guide when he runs the New York City Marathon.
I met Dan a decade ago at a daycare in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. My son and Dan's daughter, both 1-year-olds at the time, were classmates and quickly became best friends. Our families spent many weekends together picking apples, going to children's book fairs, hiking through forests and hanging out at each other's homes.
On one of our outings, we took two cars -- Dan drove the car in front and I followed. As the road curved, Dan veered too close to the curb, knocking loose a hubcap on his car's right rear wheel. I pulled to a stop, checked for oncoming traffic, and retrieved the silver disc from the side of the road. When we reached our destination, I threw him the hubcap and said sarcastically, "Nice driving idiot! You left this on the side of the road."
I did not know it at the time, but Dan was in the early stages of a medical condition called macular degeneration. Soon he stopped driving altogether, and throughout his 30s, Dan slowly lost much of his ability to see. Macular degeneration is not uncommon among the elderly, but rare for someone Dan's age.The disease, according to the Mayo Clinic, is "marked by the deterioration of the macula, which is in the center of the retina -- the layer of tissue on the inside back wall of your eyeball." A person with macular degeneration loses the ability to see in the center of their field of vision.
Dan said that the disease prompted him to reflect on what he wants out of life. "I came to the realization that I could either approach my 40s wishing I could do more, or actually just get out and do it. I finally got up the courage to sign up for a local half-marathon." He found a guide through a local running club to run the race with him, and went on to run the Rock and Roll Denver Marathon in 2010 -- his first.
Dan still has some peripheral vision, but cannot see well enough to navigate the throngs of more than 45,000 runners who will join him in the NYC Marathon. My job will be to protect him from other runners and any obstacles on the course. This is Dan's third marathon, and I also hope to help him break his personal best of 3:47. I'm feeling the pressure and really hope I come through for him. I will write another post afterward, so check back afterward to find out how Dan's race went.
Dan and I are running the marathon as part of Achilles International, a worldwide organization that encourages people with disabilities to participate in long distance running with the general public. Dan is one of 250 Achilles athletes from all over the world who will run the NYC Marathon. Come out to the race to cheer them on! And if you would like, please make a donation on Dan's fundraising page.
Many people have been inspired by Dan's decision to run the NYC Marathon and his "no excuses" approach to working toward life goals. Dan has the kind of courage that I aspire to, encouraging people to "break out of presumed limitations." So if you have a challenge to overcome, but haven't mustered the courage to take action, think of Dan and go for it!