Running against the odds

Last Updated 27 February, 2015

The marathon—26.2 miles of mental and physical endurance. It’s not for the average person, which is something Northwest Nazarene University alumnus and former track and field athlete Doug Money (’71) knows well, but then, Doug isn’t your average marathon runner.

Doug began running marathons at the age of 40 when he decided to run the San Francisco Marathon in a pair of cut-off Levi’s that irritatingly rubbed his thigh throughout the event. Considering his two state high school track titles and numerous college records and awards, his choice of uniform was a little odd. Nevertheless, a lesson was learned and a fire lit. Doug vowed, “I will never do this again in these shorts, and I will get in shape.”

True to his word, Doug began training immediately and ran the San Francisco Marathon three more times in as many years. Then in 2000, after an almost 20 year break, he ran the New York City Marathon at nearly 60 years of age. Since then he has also completed the California International Marathon two times, the Jedediah Smith 30-Mile Ultra and a number of shorter 10Ks.  

While Doug’s running career is impressive, his response to what happened next is nothing short of inspirational.

While Doug’s running career is impressive, his response to what happened next is nothing short of inspirational.

In 2009 Doug noticed he was losing clarity in his vision. After excessive testing, doctors determined that blood flow to his optic nerve—the nerve responsible for transmitting visual information from the retina to the brain—was shutting down, a condition known as Anterior Ischemic Optic Neuropathy. 

Just one year after his vision started to fade, Doug was declared legally blind. “Of all the things that could happen to me as a runner, short of losing my legs, going blind was the worst I could imagine.”

Doug describes his visual experience like “wearing a mesh over your head. I can see, I just can’t see details.” If he stares at objects or faces long enough, his brain will begin to fill in the details, similar to a person reading a word with missing letters that the brain fills in so that the word is understood.

While Doug was learning to accept these life-altering circumstances, running was something constant that he never considered giving up. Since being declared legally blind, Doug has run the Los Angeles Marathon in 2012 and a local Super Bowl Sunday 10K in 2013 and 2014.

He runs and trains on a 4-mile route close to his home, traversing a combination of streets and pedestrian/bike paths. Doug says he runs with a cane and uses the contrasts in tonal value of the path and surrounding ground to navigate. While he has never had a collision with a person or animal, he claims a number of close calls with quiet road bikes, runners on the wrong side of the path, or the occasional squirrel that darts underneath his foot. 

During races he uses lines on the road for guidance and often asks other runners if he can follow them for a stretch. “More often than not, other runners will see my cane and pick me up along the way.”

His latest goal is to qualify for and run the Boston Marathon. Doug will be 72 at his earliest opportunity to run the qualifier.

“Most people are impressed that I’m running marathons blind, but it’s actually more impressive that I’m running marathons at the age of 71. Blindness doesn't affect my running, it affects my navigating.” 

At Doug’s age, a year makes a large difference physically, a fact he’s been well aware of in recent years as he feels the pronounced effects running has on his body and lives with increasingly longer recovery periods. He’s hopeful that one more year won’t put him out of reach of his dream of running the Boston.

Doug recently had the chance to reconnect with former teammates and friends that share his passion for running when he returned for the track and field reunion at NNU’s Homecoming & Family Weekend. The weekend was full of rich fellowship memories shared and even a 5K to support student scholarships. 

For Doug, the impact went beyond the ordinary: “Blind people tend to be pushed to the side a lot, but this reunion has been a chance for me to just be me, to just be one of the track guys.”