The Boston Celtics weren’t the only athletes on the court for Wednesday’s game against the Utah Jazz. Former Olympic long-distance runner and current Perkins teacher and spokesperson Marla Runyan was honored by the Boston Celtics Shamrock Foundation as the night’s “Hero Among Us,” presented to individuals who make an exceptional contribution to the community.
Runyan was recognized for being an inspirational role model for athletes who are blind, and for encouraging children with disabilities to reach their full potential in life.
Runyan, who began losing her vision at the age of 9, became the first person who is legally blind to compete against fully-sighted world-class athletes in the Olympics when she placed eighth in the 1,500-meter race at the 2000 Sydney games.
She has set world records, won gold medals, earned positions on two U.S. Olympic teams and was the top American female finisher at the Boston, New York City, Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul “Twin Cities” marathons.
In the mid-1990s, Runyan decided to pursue teaching. She earned degrees in deaf and deafblind education and became a certified teacher of the visually impaired. She came to Perkins in 2013, and now specializes in teaching assistive technology to students with low vision.
On Wednesday, Runyan and her guide dog Grafton made their way to center court as Celtics fans delivered a rousing ovation from the stands.
“I feel very honored to be in such amazing company with the other ‘Heroes Among Us’ from Perkins,” Runyan said. “It’s a way that we can let Celtics fans and the rest of the world know what is possible for people with vision loss. A person’s potential isn’t tied to any physical characteristic.”
Runyan was joined at the TD Garden by members of the Perkins Secondary Chorus, who sang the national anthem to open the night, and Dorinda Rife, superintendent of Perkins School for the Blind and executive director of National Educational Programs, who accepted a $50,000 donation from Boston Celtics Co-Owner, Managing Partner and Shamrock Foundation President Steve Pagliuca during a halftime ceremony.