Post by Peter Alan Smith
Peter Alan Smith holds an MBA from Harvard University and is a Trust Administrator for John Hancock, having worked there for almost 30 years. In addition, he currently teaches Risk Management at the College of Charleston’s School of Business and and serves as the Board Chairperson for the South Carolina Commission for the Blind.
Peter hasn’t let vision loss prevent him from pursuing the sports that he loves, including becoming a 1995 Paralympic silver medalist in tandem cycling. At the 1994 Boston Marathon, Peter competed on what would later become known as Team With A Vision with the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI).
Hey there, my name is Peter Alan Smith. I’m also known around Charleston, South Carolina as the Midnight Golfer. That’s the title of my forthcoming book! But the story isn’t just about golf. It’s about joyfully overcoming many diverse obstacles. There will be more to come on that later on.
I ran my first Boston Marathon back in 1993; 23 years ago! I was subsequently recruited by what was then known as the first Nike/MAB Team – what is now called Team With A Vision – to run the 1994 Boston Marathon. I guess that makes me one of MABVI’s grizzled old veterans! I’m 57 now and run 5K’s, toodle around on my tandem, and litter golf courses with stray balls.
After completing the 1993 Boston Marathon, the L Street Running Club asked me to write an article for their newsletter about my experience at the event as a blind runner. So I am sharing it here following some further observations.
Observation #1: It’s funny to look back on an old article where one says “looking back” in the article. So looking back on looking back. Hmmm.
Observation #2: You must wear something that the crowd will notice and enable them to shout back at you. I had the words “Vision Quest” on my tank top and lots of people shouted stuff at me like “Go Vision Dudes!” or “Go Questmeisters!” You need to hear stuff like that as you go along.
Observation #3: Looking back, I remember more of the days spent preparing for the challenge than I do the actual 4 hours running the race. It’s just a matter of scale.
Observation #4: When you finish, you will be standing slightly dazed, some yogurt dripping down the side of your mouth, your mylar wrap flapping in the breeze like a feather boa, and someone will ask if you are running it again next year. Please don’t laugh too loudly at them!
So what follows here are the exact words from the May 1993 edition of the L Street Running newsletter:
Poor Eyesight, Excellent Vision!
Hi, my name is Peter Smith and I’m a visually impaired runner who just finished my first Boston Marathon. Mac asked me if I would write an article for the newsletter describing my experiences. It won’t be easy to tie so many different feelings together but here goes:
Back in October, when I first discussed the idea of running it with my friends, the Boston Marathon seemed like an obscure and far distant notion. But as I trained, spending hours each day running and lifting weights, I came to realize that the marathon is a goal, something to aspire to.
It wasn’t always easy to focus in on that goal when it was pouring with rain and a cold gale wind is trying to push you backwards along the stretch between the Landing and Castle Island. But that’s part of the deal; overcoming obstacles. Being visually impaired I’m used to facing obstacles and overcoming them. Some of the biggest obstacles to overcome aren’t physical at all, they’re the doubts within yourself and the misconceptions about yourself. While these challenges are difficult to overcome, they are the most satisfying. Training for the marathon instilled me with a stronger sense of discipline, self-control and confidence.
Having said that, I will also say that I couldn’t have finished the race or trained for it without a great deal of support and encouragement from many friends. That’s also part of the marathon experience. We set up a team of sighted guide runners along the race route who ran a relay with my cane as the baton. Most of the relay runner escorts enjoyed themselves so much that they’re talking about running the entire route next year. I was also very gratified by the camaraderie between all the runners out there. I was concerned that I might be a hindrance. On the contrary, runners came along side of me and told me I was “inspirational.” I just smiled, it felt great.
The crowds along the route were also a major factor in helping me finish. I’ve never experienced such a sensation. Thousands of people exhorted me onwards. Occasionally, a friend in the crowd would spot me and my pace would quicken, especially when we passed through Wellesley College. Those women sure can keep a guy moving. I’d especially like to thank the girl with the garden hose who doused me with cold water when it seemed that the hot sun was going to hammer me into the asphalt. It’s an amazing feeling to have more people cheering for you than most professional athletes will get in their entire career. It lasted for the entire route and made the time pass by much more quickly.
The sensation of turning onto Boylston Street is unlike anything else. There was nothing left in me and yet there I was running towards that finish line. I undid my cane. The p.a. system announced my name as I neared the end. My friend Steve turned to me and said “let’s sprint this last bit”. I looked back at him and said “I am sprinting!”. I crossed the line. Is that it? Is that the end? Hardly.
Looking back on it all, I know that I’ll never forget my first marathon. It’s so many different sensations and emotions tied together. The race leaves you looking forwards so I know there’ll be more to come. I’m going to tackle many other challenges and obstacles with a new enthusiasm. Those 10K’s are going to be a breeze now. I’m ready for the summer like I’ve never been before. So thank you Susan, Mark, Bill, Mike, Steve, Linda, and everyone else, we’re all in this together. I’ve come to realize that while my eyesight might be poor, I have excellent vision!
Now in its 23rd year, Team With A Vision will be running the 2016 Boston Marathon. Learn about this year’s Team and support their efforts at mabvi.org/teamwithavision. All donations go towards MABVI’s life-changing professional, peer, and support group services for the blind and visually impaired.