For most people, walking from the living room to the kitchen and back in the dark is hazardous enough.
Imagine running more than 42 km in the dark — in a foreign city.
Ary Tsotras has been running competitively for 26 years and is good enough to fully expect to be among the top finishers in any race he competes in — regardless of the fact he’s legally blind.
That competitive fire will serve him well as he strives to qualify for the Boston Marathon, undoubtedly the pinnacle of achievement for a distance runner in North America.
Tsotras, however, has no intention of qualifying in the five hours given to someone in the visually impaired division. Instead, he’s working towards the qualifying time for any other 45-year-old man, which is three hours and 25 minutes.
“I don’t let my physical visual impairment cloud my vision. It is hard to do. I wake up every day and it is a struggle. Some days you just wake up and say, ‘Dammit, do I really have to do this again?’” said Tsotras, who has retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited, degenerative eye disease that causes severe vision impairment. “But then you think, yeah, you have to, these are the cards you have been dealt.”
While Tsotras is driven to qualify with the best time possible, racing to win in Boston won’t actually be his priority.
Instead, his focus will shift to ensuring his training partner has the experience of a lifetime.
Helping Tsotras qualify for Boston is his friend and training partner Boyd Dunleavey.
Like his friend, Dunleavey knows a lot about facing challenges.
Dunleavey was diagnosed with leukemia in 2011, received a stem cell transplant in May 2012 and was struck down later that year by a virus that almost put him in a wheelchair.
Since then, he’s been battling neuropathic pain. Put in more simple terms, his neck and limbs, specifically his legs and feet, often shake like a vibrating cell phone.
Dunleavey takes medication every day to cope with the pain, and he started running only in 2013.
“Running enables me. I’m tired of having people focus on my disability and limitations. There is no asterisk beside me when I’m in a race,” Dunleavey said. “It’s a beautiful equalizer. When you compete with people, even if they beat me by five minutes, I know I’ve beaten them because they didn’t come through what I have. I run in spite of this.”
The fact Tsotras is legally blind is something he has never used an excuse for not competing at his best. In fact, he’s quite accustomed to finishing in the top 10 percent of the races in which he competes.
At Boston, competing as a blind runner, Tsotras can pick a guide to run with him. While he could have chosen someone of a more equal talent, he’s sticking with Dunleavey, who wouldn’t be able to qualify for Boston at this point in his running career.
The significance of the gesture isn’t lost on Dunleavey, who calls his friend’s decision “an unbelievably selfless act.”
Tsotras doesn’t see it that way.
In fact, he doesn’t see himself as being all that inspiring at all, but rather just “a regular guy” who likes to run and wants to ensure his friend has a great time competing on running’s biggest stage.
“I don’t run or live life for myself. I do everything I do for the people I care about around me,” Tsotras said. “If people can see a blind guy go out and run, accomplish the goals I set out for me, it gives them hope and tells them if they set their mind to something, work at it, they can achieve it.”
To help Tsotras fundraise for the Boston trip, visit his Ary’s Journey to Boston page on www.gofundme.com.