CAROLINA MOMENT: Blind marathon runner recalls tragedy after moment of triumph
By John Le
WLOS — HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. — So much of how we see the world, depends on where we’ve been.
“We all have obstacles,” Mike Merino of Hendersonville said. “There’s always ways through it, just learn to accept your situation as it is.”
At Lake Osceola, Merino is mostly alone with his thoughts as he prepares for the Asheville Marathon.
“Kind of quiet, secluded,” he said. “Got a lot of people walking their dogs.”
“My mind just kind of wanders,” he said about running. “Or if there’s things I’m angry about, it helps me let it go.”
Running has been his bridge over troubling waters.
Especially when life as he saw it faded fast.
“I can’t produce a protein to keep certain cells in my eyes alive,” he explained.
There were years of signs before the diagnosis that stunned him.
“I had trouble seeing at night, I’d go to a movie theatre and have trouble finding my way out of it,” he recalled. “And driving in the dark became more difficult.”
Somewhere along the line, he concluded that life as a legally blind man is not a sprint, but a marathon.
He was diagnosed with a hereditary disease called Usher’s syndrome, which causes moderate hearing loss at birth.
It also leads to retinitis pigmentosa, or “tunnel vision.”
“It was hard, it really was,” he said. “At first I had a lot of anxiety about what the future might hold.”
Mike’s medals are mementos of marathon missions, accomplished. He’s tethered to another runner each time he treks 26 miles.
What should have been one of the greatest days of his life, turned out to be one of the nation’s worst.
“We heard this explosion,” he said.
Minutes after he finished the Boston Marathon in 2013, two bombs killed three people and injured hundreds of others.
“And that’s when chaos occurred,” he said. “I think I was maybe 60 yards away.”
The tragedy after his personal triumph gave him one more reason to look at the world differently.
“It makes me appreciate life a little bit more,” he told News 13.
Instead of dwelling on what he might someday lose, Mike’s focused on everything he has to gain.
“Actually, it’s good marathon running weather!” he said.
The Asheville Marathon is March 13 at the Biltmore Estate. There’s also a half marathon on March 12.
If Mike finishes in less than five hours, he’ll qualify to run again at the Boston Marathon.