Running a standard 26.2-mile marathon is challenging. Less than 1% of people in the US have completed one. Now imagine running a 100-mile ultra marathon while blindfolded. It’s a task that most people wouldn’t dream to undertake. Meet Lion’s Services own Eric Strong, a truly remarkable athlete who doesn’t need to imagine racing blindly. It is his everyday reality. In fact, his longest distance run to date is 103 miles non-stop.
Brand Ambassador of #Honey Stinger, Eric Strong staying hydrated on the #run.
It isn’t easy for someone diagnosed with Glaucoma at 16 weeks old to get around on foot at all, let alone perform under intense competition as an ultra-athlete but Eric manages—placing 2nd in his class in the 2022 Boston Marathon. Eric has had a passion for running in high school but had not ran competitively in 17 years when another Lion’s staffer, Julius Wilson, re-introduced him to the sport through his organization Limitless Athletes. Eric manages his balance during races and prepares for harsh conditions beyond the constant challenge of visual impairment. He eschews the white cane used by some runners, instead running tethered with a guide, sometimes needing as many as 5 guides in a single event to keep up with his endurance and pace.
What About Performance?
Impressively, despite running and racing blind, he’s never had a major injury while running “…only finishing with your typical bruises or scratches.” When asked if he found it difficult to compete alongside those with 20/20 sight, he answers: “I use my ears to listen closely as my guide describes our surroundings, so I visualize where I am.” Endurance is just one benefit of his constant training. In fact, Achilles International (a volunteer organization connecting people with disabilities to athletic programs) reports that 80% of those taking up these activities experience an increase in self-confidence and overall well-being. Eric is giving back to the sport as well as president of the Achilles Charlotte, NC chapter.
That 103 miles mentioned in the first paragraph? It was only supposed to be 100 but Strong and his guide got lost. It was up to them to figure out where they went wrong and get back on course. Navigation skills, mental fortitude, and extreme physical fitness are all among the requirements to perform at this level. Can a person who has those be considered disabled? How many people with perfectly typical abilities would never attempt these feats? By staying relaxed and focused Eric is able to overcome obstacles well beyond those that most people can handle.
Eric Strong featured at Achilles event.
Focus. Dedication. Independence.
Eric Strong in his flow, seen racing on the trail.
It’s never easy, but Eric remains dedicated to his training, always discovering new ways to better himself on the run. One example is his high stepping trail running technique. Handling rough terrain requires this, where he constantly keeps his toes up and lifts his legs high to avoid obstacles. It’s a major difficulty increase over the technique used by typically abled runners for similar terrain, but it keeps him moving forward. “Glaucoma hasn’t slowed me down,” he says with a smile.
For a superior athlete, vision can have many definitions, especially when his mind’s eye is set on the goal at hand. When asked his thoughts before crossing the finish, he says: “I tend to think of how I might relax afterwards, but the finish always comes first.” Visualizing the finish is another way for him to see. Meditation has played a great role in Strong’s life and running “Is a stress reliever and anyone interested in marathons would come to realize that.”
Eric is a brand ambassador for Honey Stinger and is diligent with nutrition and hydration. Racing amongst his peers has brought him to trust himself, and while he might be seen tethered during races, Glaucoma hasn’t tethered his ability. In fact, it has allowed him to make the most of the senses that he has. Eric reports having far better than average hearing and being able to use the small amount of light perception that he does have to navigate more efficiently in dark places. Adapting to his blindness through personal discipline and extreme determination, Eric is an inspiration to us all here at Lion’s Services.