Marla Runyan (1969-)


Olympian runner Marla Runyan was born on January 4, 1969, in Santa Maria, California.  At the age of nine Runyan developed Stargardt’s Disease, which is a form of macular degeneration that left her legally blind. Stargardt’s is the most common cause of blindness in the United States.   Despite the effect Stargardt’s had on Runyan’s vision, she did retain her peripheral vision.  She attended Adolfo Camarillo High School, graduated in 1987, and then she received a B.S. in Education of the Deaf at San Diego State University and a M.S. in Education of Deaf-Blind Children in 1994. 

While attending San Diego State she also began competing in several athletic events:  the heptathlon, 200-meter dash, high jump, shot put, 100-meter hurdle, long jump, javelin throw, and the 800-meter run.  Runyan also participated in gymnastics and soccer, until she could no longer see the ball.  Runyan began to make her mark as a world-class runner in 1999 at the Pan American Games.  The following year Runyan became the first legally blind person and Paralympian to compete in the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.  Marla finished eighth in the 1,500-meter, the highest finish by an American woman in that event.  In 2002, Marla finished as the top American, with the second-fastest debut time by a woman, in the New York City Marathon.  Runyan also holds several American records for various running events:  20k Road (2003), All-female marathon (2002), 500m (2001), and Heptathlon (1996). 

Since 2001, Runyan has served as the first Ambassador for the Perkins School for the Blind, which is the first school for the blind in the United States.  Perkins is often noted for its most famous student, Helen Keller.  Runyan’s role as ambassador allows her to stay updated on the latest educational trends in deaf and blind teaching as well as being actively involved with its students.

Unfortunately, Runyan’s vision worsens as time passes.  She is no longer able to see the large “E” on the eye exam chart; her vision is measured at 20/400 in both eyes.  However, Runyan has not allowed her worsening condition to affect her career.  She plans to continue competing in running events.  In 2001, she co-wrote and published her autobiography, No Finish Line:  My Life As I See It.  Marla currently resides in Eugene, Oregon, with her husband and coach Matt Lonergan, whom she married in August 2002.  Marla and Matt recently became parents for the first time when her daughter, Anna Lee Runyan Lonergan, was born on September 1, 2005. 


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Article written by Spring 2006 intern Reagan Bussels