For anyone who runs a marathon, crossing the finish line after completing 26.2 miles is undoubtedly an unforgettable feeling. At that moment, months of hard work and preparation come to a culmination. For blind runner Richard Hunter, this feeling of accomplishment is no different.
Hunter was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a hereditary eye condition which causes gradual deterioration of the retina, in 1989. At the time of his diagnosis, Hunter was working in the United States Marine Corps as a Second Lieutenant. Devastated from receiving a medical discharge that would take him from his dream job, Hunter took up work as a school psychologist until he was considered legally blind in 2005-06. Despite his condition, Hunter's story is not one of misfortune. Instead, it is one of unbelievable perseverance and commitment to overcoming adversity.
"I needed a tangible goal to focus on and show to my daughters that you can still set ambitious goals and be relevant in the face of adversity," said Hunter. "So I set my sights on trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon as an age grouper, which is not real easy to do..."
Running his first Boston Marathon in 2008, Hunter achieved his goal and found something that he was truly passionate about.
However, adversity struck Hunter again on July 5, 2013. While Hunter was two hours into a bike ride to train for his second Ironman Triathlon, he and his guide were hit by a car. Nearly a head-on collision, Hunter was taken to the hospital by flight. From the accident Hunter sustained two facial fractures, a concussion and a broken neck. Released after just one day, Hunter would remain in a neck brace for three months. Finishing another marathon just five months and three days after the accident, Hunter proved himself once again.
"That whole experience…has made my family more hypersensitive about my safety and not being able to see," explained Hunter. "At the time I had a little bit more vision than I do now and I was still out in my neighborhood, when I had to do short runs, running by myself."
Concerned for Hunter's safety, his middle daughter suggested that he get a guide dog. Introduced to Klinger, the first certified running guide dog in the United States, Hunter started a new chapter in his journey. Armed with a new companion and guide for training, Hunter continues to defy the odds.
Hunter will add one more marathon to his list this weekend. Running in the Buffalo Marathon's first ever visually impaired division, he will be guided by Buffalo Bills strength and conditioning assistant Dan Liburd.
"Buffalo has a fantastic running community and an outstanding triathlon community so those are two areas that I've had the pleasure of really being a part of the last four years," said Liburd. "I've had the opportunity to meet an individual named Greg Webber, he's the race director for the Buffalo Marathon."
Presented by Webber with an unique opportunity to help guide Hunter through half of the Buffalo Marathon on Sunday, May 29, Liburd graciously accepted.
"I think it's great," said Liburd. "I mean, you know, talk about something as exhilarating as running through the community of Buffalo. People cheering, people really supporting you on this really difficult, challenging task and relegating that to people…I think it should be something that many people should be able to experience and this program gives the opportunity for a lot of people to share that experience. There's this part during the Harbor, where people are coming in and you've got a good amount of individuals from Buffalo cheering you on, you know to finish off, that's a really, really powerful feeling. I think it's cool that this program allows people to also experience that."
Thrilled for his role this Memorial Day weekend, Liburd urges others who may be interested to get involved.
"I know the running community here, there's a lot of really strong runners and if there's some people that want to come out and help, it's a great opportunity to give back, said Liburd."
For Hunter, the marathon signifies an opportunity to increase awareness for blind athletes.
"I'm one of the key networkers in the United States that engages blind people in endurance sports and I, you know, help plug volunteers into guiding blind athletes across North America," said Hunter. "So for me to go out to New York and support a race that is adding a visually impaired division is a big deal."
For additional information on the Buffalo Marathon, please visit here.