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This Man Ran the Boston Marathon and Is About to Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro—and He’s Blind

Men's Health logo Men's Health 7/31/2015 J. Rentilly
Randy Pierce, a blind season ticket holder, gets a pregame hug from his guide dog Autumn in his seats at Gillette Stadium. (Photo by Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images) © Boston Globe via Getty Images/Getty Images Randy Pierce, a blind season ticket holder, gets a pregame hug from his guide dog Autumn in his seats at Gillette Stadium. (Photo by Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

For a guy who was dealt a pretty lousy hand in life, Randy Pierce has an unbelievable perspective—and a taste for corny puns.

“Most people would probably say it’s crazy for a blind man to be climbing mountains, and I guess I see their point,” says Pierce. (Ba-dum ching.)

Jokes aside, when Pierce ascends to the roof of Africa—the 19,341-foot tall Mount Kilimanjaro—this September, it will prove a profound point. “I want to show people that you don’t need sight to have vision. Vision isn’t about seeing—it’s about doing.”

Pierce’s life changed in 1989, when an extremely rare neurological disease struck the hardware designer and robbed him blind. The aggressive mitochondrial illness, so mysterious that it lacks both a name and a cure, blitzed Pierce’s cerebellum a few years later, devastating his equilibrium and confining him to a wheelchair. 

At first, as the stop-start nature of his degenerative illness continued to claim aspects of his body’s normal functioning, Pierce felt like he wanted to quit at life.

“I couldn’t stop wondering how many times life was going to smack me down,” he says. “There are still mornings when I wake up and it’s like, ‘Come on, really? I have to be blind again today?’ ”

But Pierce, 48, ultimately realized that he doesn’t have a monopoly on suffering. “We’re all going to face challenges in this world. You can let them define you, or you can use them to redefine yourself. For me, pushing forward is what matters most.”

So that’s what he did. He successfully labored to liberate himself from his wheelchair, and hit the ground running. In 2010, Pierce launched the nonprofit 2020VisionQuest, and established for himself a plan to scale all 48 peaks taller than 4,000 feet in his home state, New Hampshire.

“I chose mountains because they’re universally synonymous with challenges,” Pierce says. “Everyone understands that metaphor.”

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UP NEXT

The plan was supposed to take 10 years, but Pierce pulled it off in 3—and he was just getting started. He then opted to become a second-degree black belt in karate, a fan-favorite marathon runner—nailing the 2015 Boston Marathon in 3:50:42—and the first blind American to compete a Tough Mudder.

Up next: Kilimanjaro, which Pierce plans to scale with a small support team and his beloved guide dog, Autumn.

While his illness could at any moment deliver new, more debilitating, even lethal complications, he refuses to live in fear. 

“I’m a climber—not a quitter or a camper,” says Pierce. “There’s nothing safe about this life for any of us. We could all go at any time.”

That’s why Pierce prides himself on living in the moment. “You never abandon your future,” he says. “You make yourself present to other human beings, to the experiences life offers.

“You go one day at a time. And before you know it, you’re on top of the world, too.”

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