Marla Runyan is an Olympic track and field athlete, keynote speaker, marathon runner, author, and educator. She was the first legally blind athlete to compete in the Olympics. Marla holds two master’s degrees in Special Education and has over fifteen years of teaching experience. She is a steadfast proponent of digital accessibility and assistive technology. Marla serves as teacher and ambassador for the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts—prominent for its most famous student, Helen Keller. Marla is also the assistant coach for Northeastern University’s cross country and track and field program. She is also the manager for the Boston Athletic Association. At age nine, Marla was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a form of macular degeneration and the most common cause of blindness in the United States, that left her legally blind. Nonetheless, Marla was able retain her peripheral vision and delineate shapes and shadows.
Marla has been legally blind for over twenty years; but she refused to consider her blindness an impediment. She is a three-time national champion in the women’s 5000-meter run. Marla’s career as a world-class runner began in 1999 at the Pan American Games, where she won the 1500-meter race. The next year, she placed eighth in the 1500-meter in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, producing the highest finish by an American woman in that event. In 2002, Marla finished as the top American at the 2002 New York City Marathon with a time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 10 seconds to post the second-fastest debut time ever by an American woman. Marla also co-wrote and published her autobiography, No Finish Line: My Life as I See It. She has been featured in many publications and new outlets, such as ESPN, CNN, Runner’s World, TEDx Beacon Street, The History Channel, the Boston Herald, the Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times, amongst others.
Recently, Marla chronicled her running accomplishments and the adversity she encountered in her life with our Different & Able President and Founder, Alexandra Nicklas. Marla’s story is one of persistence, fueled by refusal to let her vision loss define her. Marla helps others with a difference focus on what they can do, not what they cannot. Marla says, “Believe in yourself, and show others what you can do. Only ‘you’ can find your potential.”