Determined to run, no matter the obstacle

Michael Adler takes part in the 2011 Broad Street Run with help from his guides. This will be his third time running the race.
Michael Adler takes part in the 2011 Broad Street Run with help from his guides. This will be his third time running the race.
Posted: April 16, 2012

Over the next 20 days, The Inquirer will present one profile daily of participants in the May 6 Broad Street Run. The race is considered the country's most popular 10-mile run, attracting more than 40,000 people. They will race downhill from near Einstein Medical Center to the Navy Yard.

Michael Adler started running at 22. He was already legally blind - a genetic disease, retinitis pigmentosa, had been advancing since his teens - but he could still see the glow of streetlights.

So he would get up in the middle of the night and run a loop through the neighborhood where he grew up, a route that he could still see in his mind's eye.

He would run in the middle of the road, along the crown, and if he felt the slightest pitch of pavement, he knew he was drifting toward the curb and would veer back to the middle.

The one thing he could see was the glow of streetlights.

"They looked like dots in the sky to me," he said. "The dots were my guide."

He did that loop alone, in Mantua, Gloucester County, for six years.

"I realized as I got older that that was kind of nuts, and I could get hit by a car," he said. His eyesight also got worse, to the point where those dim lights disappeared. So he started on a treadmill.

Three years ago, he started running outdoors again.

He ties a neon-yellow shoelace into a loop. He holds one end. A friend holds the other.

On Sundays, he runs in New Jersey with Kym Stone and Dave Moore from his church, usually at 6 a.m.

"I let him know the direction of the turn before we approach it," Kym said. "Then, I simply do a 3-2-1 countdown. These days, Michael knows the route so well that he often will remind me of an upcoming pothole."

On Tuesdays, he still runs on the treadmill. And Thursday mornings, he runs along Kelly Drive with a friend from work, Maria Ferrato.

"He is the furthest from blind," Maria said. "He sees the world through the clearest lens and turns what is doubtful into a beautiful experience."

Michael is now 52, married, with a daughter, Haley, 11, and he can't wait for the day when he can run tethered to her. For 15 years, he has worked as a massage therapist at the Rittenhouse Hotel.

When he started running outdoors again, Michael's goal was to run Broad Street.

That presented a special challenge, a blind person running in a sea of thousands.

But friends flank him, and one runs in front as a "blocker."

Two years ago, Michael's first time in the Broad Street Run, Allen Ho, his doctor at Wills Eye Institute, also ran with him.

Michael will run Broad Street for the third time now.

"The most important thing about my run is the people that I run with," he said. "They're the ones that are my eyes. I put my trust in them. I couldn't do this without them."

Said his friend Kym:

"Look for a bright neon-yellow shoestring between two runners and know that you are seeing the bravest, most determined, normal, blind runner you will ever see. And be inspired."


Contact Michael Vitez at 215-854-5639, mvitez@phillynews.com or follow @Michaelvitez on Twitter.

Still looking to enter the Broad Street Run? Now's your chance.

Philly.com/health has five race entries to give away. Send us a maximum of 200 words on why you want to run the race, and readers will vote on their favorites. Here is how it works: Submit your plea to checkup@phillynews.com. Include a photo. For inspiration, you can see a real submission at Philly.com/BroadStreetRun. Deadline for submissions is midnight April 17.

|
|
|
|
|