Legally blind Naugatuck man endures elements to finish Boston Marathon

David Alejandro, a visually impaired Naugatuck man, right, is pictured with Jon Romero, his guide after finishing the 122nd Boston Marathon on April 16. -PHOTO BY ERIN MILLER SPAULDING

David Alejandro wanted to quit. Jon Romeo would not let him.

Alejandro, 43, a visually impaired runner from Naugatuck, was attempting to run his first Boston Marathon on Monday. Romeo, 54, of Cheshire, was his sight guide.

Alejandro is legally blind from retinitis pigmentosa. He can only see straight ahead through a vision tunnel about the size of a quarter.

Despite this, Alejandro runs marathons. He has run the New York City Marathon three times. He once ran it alone. On Monday, the ebullient Alejandro attempted Boston. The day before he boasted he “was going to spread sunshine all over that race.”

Boston could have used sunshine for its 122nd marathon. Runners were under attack from cold, gusting wind and stinging rain.

Alejandro was optimistic.

“When I was at the hotel, I was in a little cocoon,” he said.

But when “those (lobby) doors opened, I felt it. Everyone looked at each other, but we all said, ‘OK, it could be worse.’ And as we walked to the staging area, there was this sudden downpour. People cheered. They wanted the rain.”

But that rain soon washed away the bravado.

“By mile 8, I couldn’t feel my fingers,” Alejandro said. “My hamstrings were tight, and I started getting blisters on my feet because my shoes were so wet.”

He stopped to use a Port-o-let and was unable to undo the draw string on his running pants. It was difficult taking care of business. When Alejandro saw a sign for a medical tent, he made a decision.

“I told Jon that I was going to quit. I was breaking down, mentally and physically,” Alejandro said. “You know how marathoners hit the wall around mile 17? I hit my wall at mile 8.”

Romeo, who was in his fourth marathon as Alejandro’s guide, refused to listen. He told Alejandro that the race was not over. Alejandro said that Romeo’s words were: “If we have to run or if we have to walk, we’re going to finish.”

They ran, they walked and they finished.

Alejandro’s time was 5 hours, 4 minutes, 37 seconds, but time hardly mattered Monday.

Runners stood for more than two hours as they waited for their wave of the race start, with little or no cover from the rain.

Alejandro said it was difficult to find an available Port-o-let before the race because runners were hiding in them to get out of the rain.

“They wouldn’t come out,” he said.

There was little relief when the race started.

“It was a struggle,” Alejandro said. “Every mile I complained. I ran until I couldn’t run, and then I walked. By Heartbreak Hill (mile 21), I was delirious. My body was telling me to stop, but all around people are cheering and telling you they were proud of you.”

Alejandro wears his name on his running shirt and was identified as a visually impaired runner. Spectators called his name and cheered him on.

“It was the toughest thing I had to endure in my life,” he said. “I quit a million times on that course.”

A marathon is 26.2 miles, but Alejandro’s distance-measuring device told him that he covered 27.4 miles. “I kept zigzagging,” he said, “and I ran to the side of the course to stretch whenever I started to cramp up.”

The ultimate reward, Alejandro said, might be this: “I think I deserve a new tattoo. This was an unbelievable experience.”

Alejandro is the first Connecticut runner to complete Boston through Achilles International, a nonprofit organization that helps people with disabilities compete in athletics. Achilles International set Alejandro up with a hotel room in Boston. They helped his wife, Tracy, get to the start line and to the finish line to greet David.

Alejandro finished Boston on the worst of days, thanks to many. On the course, he met David Hayes of Massachusetts, who also helped guide him home. Hayes had been a guide for Alejandro previously, but this was a surprise meeting.

Before the race, a man known only by his first name, Pablo, who had helped Alejandro across the finish line at the Hartford Marathon in 2017, was there again in Boston. He gave up his quasi-dry spot in a school entranceway before the race start so that Alejandro could get out of the elements.

A lot of things went right Monday, though it didn’t seem that way at the time.

“I was blessed to have so many people surrounding me and helping me,” Alejandro said.

And now that it’s done, he even said this: “I hope to do it again next year on a nice day, so that I can enjoy it.”

There is unfinished business. David Alejandro has leftover sunshine to spread all over the Boston Marathon of 2019.