Marla Runyan is a former world-class American track and field athlete and marathon runner who is legally blind. At age nine, she was diagnosed with Stargardts disease, a form of juvenile macular degeneration that causes progressive vision loss.
After graduating from Adolfo Camarillo High School in 1987, Marla studied at San Diego State University where she began competing in numerous track and field events including the high jump, heptathlon, and 100-meter hurdles. In 1994, Marla graduated with a master's degree in Communicative Disorders and began her post-collegiate running career. She qualified for the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials in the heptathlon, but fell short of making the Olympic Team. However, Marla won 5 Gold medals at the 1992 and 1996 Paralympic Games and set numerous world records in the T13 visually impaired classification. Marla's running career could have easily ended here, but her unyielding spirit and determination to reach her potential pushed her to accomplish even more.
In 1996, Marla relocated to Eugene, Oregon and reinvented herself as a middle distance runner. With a new coach and a new goal in sight, Marla finished third at the U.S. Olympic Trials and qualified for the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team in the 1500 meter event -- the first time a legally blind athlete has ever accomplished such a feat. After winning 3 consecutive USATF national titles in the 5000-meters, Marla made her second Olympic Team in that event in 2004. To this day Marla Runyan is considered to be one of the greatest success stories in U.S. Track and Field history. Not only has she overcome a visual impairment; she astonishingly moved from sprints and field events to middle and long distance running. Marla went on to place as the top American finisher in the Twin Cities, New York City, Boston, and Chicago Marathons finishing 1st, 4th, 5th, and 7th in those events respectively.
To this day, Marla remains the only American athlete to qualify and compete in both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Marla currently holds two master's degrees in Special Education and works as a Digital Accessibility Consultant. She makes appearances regularly as a motivational and keynote speaker.