National Federation of the Blind Member Makes History at the 122nd Running of the Boston Marathon

Michael pushes his friend Ashton in the Boston Marathon. Two other members of Team Hoyt run with them.

National Federation of the Blind Member Makes History at the 122nd Running of the Boston Marathon

I am a long-time member of the National Federation of the Blind and have served as treasurer of the Tidewater Chapter of the NFB of Hampton Roads since 2009. Mr. Stewart Prost serves as our current chapter president. I want to tell all of you how much I appreciate being a part of the National Federation of the Blind. You have no idea how much it meant to me when I was twenty-four and heard Fred Schroeder say that “It is respectable to be blind.” I heard Dr. Schroeder say this at my first state convention in Virginia. I have never been to a National Convention, but I’ve heard they are amazing.

I am writing to tell you that I made history on Monday, April 16, 2018 at the 122nd running of the Boston Marathon. After joining the National Federation of the Blind, I joined an organization called Team Hoyt. Team Hoyt is a unique organization in which runners push people who use wheelchairs in competitive races. Its origins go back to Dick and Rick Hoyt—a father (Dick) who had a son (Rick) with cerebral palsy. Dick started pushing his son in marathons and triathlons. It’s a beautiful story of love, triumph over adversity and, most importantly, the integration of people with disabilities into all aspects of life, including competitive sporting events.

I was never athletic and, because of that and my legal blindness, I was picked last for teams and never picked by coaches, so I never imagined I could do sports. In 2009 I started running as a blind runner with a sighted guide. After my first half marathon that year, I was asked by a very good friend—Dr. Allen “Trey” White, who started Team Hoyt Virginia Beach—if I wanted to push another person with a disability. I decided it would be a great honor for me to push someone else with a disability because I know what it’s like to be excluded because of your disability; I wanted to give a positive experience of inclusion to someone else.

I completed fifteen full marathons between 2009 and 2017, including three Boston Marathons (2013—the year of the Boston bombing, 2014, and 2015); a marathon each in California and Louisiana; and several marathons in Virginia, including two Marine Corps Marathons. I have also completed several other half marathons and shorter races; in ninety percent of these races, I have pushed people who use wheelchairs with a guide runner. My guide runners do not touch the chair; they only serve as my eyes on the course by providing verbal directions.

One of the riders I thoroughly enjoy pushing—because we talk during runs and he smiles and gets so excited when we race—is Ashton McCormick. Ashton is nineteen years old and has Autism. I dreamed that one day I’d push Ashton in the Boston Marathon. I had already survived the Boston bombing so I knew I’d be able to do this. But it took four and one half years for our duo team to get to Boston.

We call ourselves Team Pretzel Hands because my friend Ashton LOVES pretzels.

This year was the 122nd running of the Boston Marathon, which had never had a duo team on which a blind runner pushed someone else with a disability. The Boston Athletics Association and I had literally hundreds of emails going back and forth because there were no rules on how to do what I was trying to do.

Last year we qualified at the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach, and we were accepted for the Boston Marathon in October of 2017. This year, we made history—the first blind runner pushing a wheelchair user in the marathon. We finished in five hours and fifty-eight minutes and seven seconds.

I got to start this year’s Boston Marathon with seven other duo teams, but our team was the only one on which both the runner and rider had disabilities. The marathon itself was covered by ESPN.

The National Federation of the Blind has had a profound effect on how I view blindness, and I thank everyone in the organization for the way you have changed my life. Pushing my friend Ashton in the Boston Marathon is truly a dream that the National Federation of the Blind helped me turn into reality.