When Charlie was a child and diagnosed with a degenerative macular disease that caused increasing levels of blindness, he was told that “life would be much too dangerous a place for him.” But Charlie and his family refused to allow his disability to define him or limit his potential.
“I was never allowed to use my sight as an excuse for not doing something with my life,” Charlie said of his upbringing. “I was in a situation in which I could either fold like a deck of cards or explore opportunities to give myself a full and complete life, which I did.”
Charlie’s eyesight would continually deteriorate over the years, but he persisted to achieve his goals. “The darker my world got, the more determined I was to make things happen,” he said. He earned 2 master’s degrees, raised 3 children, and worked for 32 years as a middle school teacher in Long Island, New York.
After retiring in 1999 at the age of 55, he sought out a new challenge: running.
Endurance running quickly turned into his passion. “The longer my distances became, the better I was able to perform,” he said. By the time Charlie was 73, he had completed more than 50 marathons and 8 Ironman triathlons.
But while his visual impairment didn’t hold Charlie back, injuries sometimes did. Over the years he dealt with meniscal tears in both knees, and in 2014 he was diagnosed with pinched nerves in his spinal cord that left him unable to walk, let alone run.
Several doctors suggested Charlie should hang up his running shoes. Instead, Charlie found a surgeon and physical therapist who believed they could get him to safely return to endurance events.
Recovery wasn’t easy.
Charlie found that overcoming his back problems was more challenging than any of his vision issues.
“I didn’t have sight and then lose it,” Charlie said. “I had my ability to swim, bike, and run, and it was taken away from me. So I fought really, really hard to get it back. And I did.”
“The physical therapist and the physical therapy treatment are the only things that have allowed me to be where I am right now.”
Now back to training for endurance events, the legally blind grandfather of 4 leads a full life.
“I’m 73 years old, and I feel as though I can just keep going,” he said. “I’m nowhere near the end of the race.”
Listen to Charlie's story on Move Forward Radio.
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