One year, eight months and twenty-one days– Randy Pierce knows the exact amount of time he spend in a wheelchair. In 2004, a neurological disorder, which the doctors believe is mitochondrial disease, attacked his cerebellum and his optic nerve, leaving him completely blind and in the wheelchair. He did everything he could to get out. And when he did, he started hiking, running and using his legs with the help of sighted guides and guide dogs. At Reebok Ragnar Reach the Beach, Randy will run the 200-ish miles with an ultra team comprised of five other visually impaired runners.
“I did everything I could to come out of the wheelchair, which was obviously successful in a grand way,” Randy says. “Now, I celebrate all forms of what my legs can do, whether it’s walking, running, hiking.”
In 2010, Randy made it his goal to hike all 48 4,000-foot peaks in New Hampshire before the year 2020. Within 36 months, he had completed all 48 twice.
“I found I loved it, I thrived at it, my guide dog was amazing,” he says. “So, we reached that goal. I was like, ‘great! So we’re early. That just means we make new goals.’”
In correlation with his goal, he formed the charity 2020 Vision Quest to bring awareness to living with different abilities by going to schools and non-profits. He also raises funds for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, the guide school that provides his guide dog, and for New Hampshire Association for the Blind, which trains people going through vision loss. Plus, he started running. His guide, Pete Houde, first suggested running Ragnar after they completed several marathons and even a Tough Mudder together. They worked with Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI) and Costal Athletic Association to put together a team.
“These are great exciting people,” Randy says. “Some of them I don’t know very well, some of them I’m going to get to know very well. The human spirit is incredible. It seems to me that it’s a group that is comprised of that.”
And they run for many reasons. To prove they can. To prove nothing can stop them. And, to put some kills on the van.
“People get over focused (no pun intended) on ‘look at what these blind runners are doing’,” he says. “And I hope what they realize is, look at what these people are doing. They’re following their dreams. We all, as people, have so much more in common than different. There’s more to it. I do want people to believe that no matter what your challenge, you should find a way to follow your dreams, because that’s what we’re doing.”
In fact, Randy and Pete have been running together for so long that they have guiding down to a fine art and if it wasn’t for the rigid tether they each hold, you might never know Randy was being guided. Well, until he hits a tree.
“Pete’s a fair bit shorter than me,” says Randy, who is 6’ 4”. “If we’re running on some untrimmed road, sometimes I would like him to remember that and look up. I had a run the other day and after a face full of branches, the person who was running with us asked ‘do you know what kind of tree it was?’ I was like, ‘how bout a Maple? I think it was a maple.’ He was like ‘You’re right! Should we swing you into more to find out how well you can identify trees?’ Well, that’s a fun concept, but no.”
No matter how many times Randy has to count the days he can’t walk, gets steered into trees or has a bad day training, he’s determined to stay active.
“I use to ask the question: how many times is life going to kick me down?” he says. “And I don’t ask that question anymore. I ask, what am I going to do to get back up and get focused on where I want to be? The truth is, it doesn’t matter how many times it knocks me down. It matters how many times I find a way to get back up.”
Learn more about Randy’s charity, 2020 Vision Quest, here. Read about other Team Vision Quest runner, Kyle Robidoux.