Marla Runyan is a two-time U.S. Olympian and two-time Paralympian in Track & Field. At age nine, she was diagnosed with Stargardts Disease, a form of juvenile macular degeneration that causes central vision loss and legal blindness.
As a collegiate athlete, Marla competed in numerous track and field events including the high jump and heptathlon at San Diego State University. In 1992 and 1996, she represented the U.S. in the Paralympic Games, winning five gold medals and setting numerous world records in the T13 classification for athletes with vision impairments. Despite her limited vision, Marla went on to qualify and compete in the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials in the heptathlon where she placed 10th against fully sighted athletes.
Following the Paralympic Games, Marla competed solely against fully sighted athletes in national and international competitions. Upon relocating to Eugene, Oregon, she changed events, abandoning sprint and field events for middle and long-distance races. Her breakthrough year came in 1999, when she won gold in the 1500-meters at the Pan-American Games and finished 10th in the world at the IAAF World Championships in Seville, Spain, earning her a #2 ranking in that event in the United States.
In 2000, Marla made history when she earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team - the first time a visually impaired athlete and Paralympian had qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team. Marla went on to finish 8th In the Sydney Olympic Games, the highest finish at that time by an American woman in the 1500-meter event. In 2001 - 2003, Marla won three consecutive USA National Championship titles in the 5000-meters, set an indoor American Record, and made her second U.S. Olympic Team in 2004.
Marla may be considered one of America's 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. She won seven USATF National Road titles and in 2002, she was ranked #1 in the United States in the 1500m, 3000m, and the marathon. That year, she finished 4th in the NYC Marathon and was the top American female finisher in a time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, 10 seconds (the second fastest marathon debut by an American woman at that time). Marla rounded out her running career by placing 5th in the Boston Marathon in 2003, 7th in the Chicago Marathon in 2004, and captured the USA National Marathon Championship title by winning the Twin Cities Marathon in 2006. To this day, Marla remains the only legally blind U.S. Paralympian to also qualify and compete in the Olympic Games.
Beyond running, Marla holds two masters degrees in Special Education. With over 15 years of teaching experience, she is also a steadfast proponent of digital accessibility and served as an Invited Expert on the W3C Accessibility Guidelines Working Group. She continues to work as an accessibility and sport equity advocate.