BOSTON (CBS) – Runners representing charities will be among the thousands making the 26.2 mile trek from Hopkinton to Boston later this month on Marathon Monday.
Josh Crary will be one of them, running for Dana Farber – who cared for his dad before his passing last year.
But Josh has overcome his own obstacles to reach this point of his journey.
“Life can be hard and challenging, but it’s important to be strong — but also vulnerable… and to reach out for help,” said the 25-year-old Crary, who will run his second Boston Marathon this month.
Those are the life lessons from Josh, who when he was just 14 doctors told him he had Chorodoremia – a disease that would rob him of his sight.
“Up until I was 14 we just thought it was poor vision. Then we found out it was something else, pretty different.”
He does have some vision, though it is limited to his peripherals and he has no central vision.
“I’m able to see some objects move around me as long as they’re in my side vision. All I can really perceive is a large mass of blurry colors with no depth perception.”
It was a shock that literally took years for Josh to accept. But at the age of 19, he went away to school at UNH.
“Move-in day was the very first day I started using a cane so it was a pretty big day; not just to move into college but go through that identity change as well.”
It was when he came to Boston for Grad School at BC that Josh decided he would tackle the Boston Marathon.
“I saw all these stories on the news about the Boston Marathon and thought it was the coolest thing,” he recalled.
Josh was not always a runner, but he was determined. So he signed up for a gym and recruited different friends to be his guides. He did most of his work on a treadmill, calling himself a “gerbil in a cage,” but also hit the streets of Boston, working his way up from one mile to 20.
His father also played a big part in his training for his first Marathon.
“My dad was always active growing up,” Josh recalled. “In high school he ran track and played basketball and football. He was quite the runner, and when I went back home to NH he would go out with me to the track and stand up there and count the laps, and give me ideas and suggestions on speed and form.”
But the extreme heat on that April day in 2011 cut Josh’s day short. He wasn’t able to finish the race, but met up with his father and sister at the finish line.
“I met them on the other side of the finish line in the Red Cross tent. I didn’t cross the finish line, but we did reunite at the finish line,” he said.
It didn’t matter Josh wasn’t able to beat the heat and finish the race, his family was still proud of his accomplishment.
“I don’t think it really mattered if I had only made it three miles or 17.3 – like I did – or the whole 26.2; I had already won in his eyes and my family’s eyes.”
From there, the road got a lot tougher for Josh. His father was diagnosed with cancer just two days after Josh’s first marathon, and his mother passed away just a month later. Two moths after her passing, his father lost his battle with cancer.
Josh will run April’s race in both of their memories, with a new helper.
Caitlyn Donovan is Josh’s guide runner, ready to run her second Boston Marathon — but first as a guide.
“I figured if she had ran in the marathon before, she would hopefully want to do it again. She was crazy enough to say yes,” he said.
Donovan recalled the crowds from the first time she ran Boston, and remembered how much the fan support kept her going. She doesn’t think running as a guide will be any easier, but it will be more rewarding.
“I don’t know if ‘easier’ is the right word, but it’s more exciting knowing that I’m not running it by myself — but as a unit,” said Donovan.
The two are a unit as they run, connected by a tether. There are special tether’s made, but Josh has an easy alternative.
“I like using shirt sleeves because they’re cheap. You get two of them from every shirt,” he said with a smile. “I lose things, easily, just due to pure laziness – not even being visually impaired.”
“We really just hold onto it and leave half a foot of slack and run side-by-side.”
But Donovan’s job is much more than holding on to a cut-off piece of shirt. She delivers easy directions such as “right” and “left,” along with ”pickup,” which lets Josh know to pick up his feet if there is a lip or bump in the road.
“It’s so he’s not dragging (his feet),” she explained. “We had an incident the other day.”
“Yes, but we survived,” said Josh.
Josh has been battling injuries during his training, so his goal this year is to just finish the race. But he knows the message he is relaying just by running will echo whether he crosses the finish line or not.
“It’s almost more than trying to inspire people; to focus on inviting people not to doubt themselves and reach out to other folks who will support them,” he said. “I’m pushing myself to try new things all the time, and I hope that other folks that have gone blind or lost a parent or have cancer, whatever it may be, keep going for those greater, better things in life as well.”
If you’d like to know more about Josh, check out his blog.
WBZ-TV is proud to be the only local station bringing you live wire-to-wire coverage of the 117th Boston Marathon beginning at 8 a.m. on April 15!