26.2 Miles for Braille Literacy

When Ilana Meyer and Marissa Sullivan cross the finish line of the Boston Marathon this Patriots Day, they won’t just have completed the world’s greatest race. For the last four months, they have run hundreds of miles in snow, ice, and rain, because they care about blind children and adults having access to the printed word. They’ve raised thousands of dollars in support of braille literacy, and National Braille Press is honored to have their support and to be a part of the 2017 John Hancock Non-Profit Program.

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#BeBoston, 2017 Boston Marathon, John Hancock 

Twenty years ago, when I competed as a runner in the Boston Marathon, all I wondered about was myself. How many people were in front of me? Behind me? How did I do compared to other blind runners? What was my time up Heartbreak Hill? I loved, and still love, that aspect of running, which allows me to compete with others, the clock, and myself.

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Joe Q running during training

Runners like Ilana and Marissa have shown me that running is so much more. Through John Hancock’s charity program, the Boston Marathon makes an individual act—completing the race—into an effort for others. That collective power has truly impressive results—over the last 6 Boston Marathons, NBP’s runners have raised over $100,000!

This year, Ilana and Marissa have already raised more than $20,000 so that others can share their love of reading. Their journey over the 26.2 miles is a reminder of the power of selflessness and of pushing oneself to the limit. Their race is not only a physical challenge, but also an act of altruism which will put books into the hands of blind children and adults—making a difference in their education, literacy, and day-to-day lives.

Marathon Monday has a different meaning for me now than it did twenty years ago. I no longer watch for just the top finishers—I now go out on the course to cheer on our champions, who truly exemplify what it means to run for others.

By Joe Quintanilla, Vice President of Development and Major Gifts

Forty is the New Braille

Why run for forty consecutive days when you really haven’t run that much in over a year? This was my way of challenging myself as my 40th birthday approached. Some runners would run the number of miles in one day that corresponded to their age; well, that was out! I needed a catalyst to help improve my fitness but I also wanted to be realistic. Joe Quintanilla runs with sighted guide, Kara Peters

I decided on running for forty days for at least a mile per day to bring awareness to the work at National Braille Press while combining my two passions –running and braille literacy.

I really had not run much since last fall when I suffered an ankle injury. I knew that putting my body through 40 days of running was going to be hard, but equally as tough would be coordinating with enough sighted guide runners. When you are blind, you can’t go out your front door and put in a mile or two. You are limited by the schedules of your volunteer guides. Treadmill running isn’t really a favorite of mine. I find it exacerbates other injuries so I wanted to keep that to a minimum. So my quest became twofold; run every day for forty days and coordinate enough sighted runners to help me achieve this goal.

My family isn’t really a running family, but they have all been supportive of my passion over the years. With this latest challenge, they were more than supportive, they were my MVP’s. The first day of my run was on April 30th, my late father’s birthday. I was in Charlotte for my niece’s first communion, staying in a hotel in an unfamiliar city, without access to my usual running guides. With encouragement from my fiancée, Gina, I got on the treadmill at the hotel. My sister in-law and nephew came over and got the treadmill started for me to set the pace and time. (Most exercise equipment is digital and not accessible to me). My forty-day running quest to raise money for braille literacy had begun!

A week later, I goaded my oldest sister, who is not a runner, into running a mile with me. It was tough for her but she did it. She also told me, “don’t call me next week and don’t try to guilt me into running again.” Well, what does a brother do when he needs help? He calls his sister for another run on Day 25. My guide for that day had gotten a flat tire on her way to our run. I called my sister, and told her I needed her help to keep the streak alive. She put me off for a few hours but I persisted. I didn’t want the streak to end and had been feeling good throughout the three plus weeks I had been running. It wasn’t looking good until later that night when she called to say, “Let’s go!”

As the weeks progressed, my pace got faster; knocking 2 minutes off of my 5k pace. Sure, I had begun to have some ankle and foot pain but I could hang on to finish what I had set out to do –if my guides came through. Days 34 and 35 I had other guide issues; one got injured, and I missed meeting another because traffic held me up. Thanks Boston traffic! Did I dare call my sister again? Well, once again she came through, running back-to-back days and faster than she had previously. Wow!

I have two days left and I am certain I will get to the finish line. Why? Because I believe in braille literacy and the commitment I made to raise funds so that blind children and adults have the braille materials they need. I also have a pretty great sister and many friends and supporters who have helped push me through the pain and fatigue. I would not have been able to do this without the support of these guides who made time out of their busy schedules, battled their own injuries and fatigue, and came through for me when I really needed it.

Photo of runners at sunset

For many, running is a solitary thing. For me, it’s always been a team effort. Whether it is on the roads or in a race, you push each other. I was able to assemble a team that will get me to the finish line and for that I am extremely grateful. I hope you will join NBP’s team and donate to my efforts so together we can ensure blind children and adults make it to their finish line!

Joseph Quintanilla is the VP of Development at National Braille Press and a former paralympian runner competing in the Paralympic games in 1996. He has run 8 marathons, including Boston.

Special thanks to Joe’s guide runners: Judy Krimski, Roger Pelissier, Norman Lang, Cliff Watkin, Christine Booth, Christina Haddad, Mark Sadecki, Tom Richissin, Bill Attwood, Michelle Becker, Anne Swain, Lisa Andrews, Rich Gilreath, Erin Connors, Kara Peters and Luisa Quintanilla.