Erich Manser: How Running Changed Me

A big part of life is overcoming the obstacles that are bound to come our way, and Erich Manser has done so in a significant way, but not without struggle. Manser describes himself as a visually impaired marathon runner and triathlete who has had to make some slight adaptations to continue to be able to enjoy the sport of running.

ErichAs a child, Manser was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease known as retinitis pigmentosa, which has slowly damaged his eyesight over the course of his life to the point where he can no longer drive. He also chooses to wear a bib indicating he is visually impaired whenever he participates in events such as the Boston Marathon. Manser runs with a guide which helps him navigate his surroundings by listening to the guide call out for obstacles and holding on to a tether. He has described this experience by explaining that, “It’s just an adapted way to do it and you know, when I think about that compared to the alternative, it would be easy to, as I’m losing my eyesight, to kind of retreat and try and stay in the house and not get off the couch, but that’s not living.”

Manser came from a swimming background; he was involved in swimming from grade school through college, and was even part of the men’s swim team at his alma mater, Northeastern University. His transition to running came after he completed his college career and needed to find a new sport that would allow him to stay healthy and competitive. Running seemed like an obvious choice to Manser, who enjoyed being able to conveniently step outside and run a quick mile or two. He then met a group of marathon runners who encouraged him to consider trying a marathon. The fact that the Boston Marathon essentially took place in Manser’s backyard made the choice an easy one, especially since sighted guides tend to be eager to volunteer in these types of events and assist athletes like Manser.

When asked about whether or not someone should get involved in adaptive sports who might be unsure, Manser had a great bit of advice to give and answered, “I would say try. You know, just go out and try it out. Try it on for size. A disability shouldn’t be a limitation; it should be something that you can definitely work around. You know, just adapt. If something on the track isn’t necessarily the right fit for you then maybe try swimming. There’s so many ways to stay fit and active. It’s really a matter of exploring, and the best thing you can do is try.”

Manser realized he could have easily put off life and sports by succumbing to his disease, but he tried out running and found that it was a great fit for him. It’s so important to try new things, see what your options are, because no one knows how much they will potentially enjoy something like adaptive sports until they try it out for themselves.