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 competed in numerous track and field events including the high jump and heptathlon. 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, where she finished 10th but fell well short of making the Olympic Team. In 1992, Marla competed in her first of two Paralympic Games, and ultimately won 5 gold medals and set 9 world records in the T13 visually impaired classification.
In 1996, Marla relocated to Eugene, Oregon and reinvented herself as a middle distance runner. With a new coach and heightened focus , Marla won gold in the 1500-meters at the 1999 Pan-American Games and finished 10th in the IAAF World Outdoor Championships in Seville, Spain.
At the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials, Marla finished 3rd and qualified for the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team in the 1500 meter event -- the first time a legally blind American track and field athlete has ever made a U.S. Olympic Team. Marla went on to win 3 consecutive USATF national outdoor titles in the 5000-meters and made her second Olympic Team in that event in 2004. To this day Marla Runyan is considered to be one of the most versatile athletes in U.S. Track and Field history - as an aside to her limited vision, she astonishingly moved from sprints and field events to middle and long distance running. In 2002, Marla placed 4th in the NYC Marathon and was the top American female finisher in a time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, 10 seconds, the fourth fastest marathon debut time by an American woman. Marla also ran the Twin Cities, Boston, and Chicago marathons finishing 1st, 5th, and 7th in those events respectively.
To this day, Marla remains the only visually impaired American athlete to qualify and compete in both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Marla currently holds two master's degrees in Special Education.