Legally blind Naugatuck runner takes on Gaylord Gauntlet

David Alejandro, right, a visually-challenged runner from Naugatuck, crawls through an obstacle with the help of his guides Jon Romeo, left, and Matt Romeo, back, during the annual Gaylord Gauntlet 5K and obstacle run June 22 on the Gaylord Specialty Healthcare campus in Wallingford. -ANDREAS YILMA

WALLINGFORD — David Alejandro was one of loudest participants in the annual Gaylord Gauntlet 5K and obstacle run, cheering on other runners while he partook in the event.

Alejandro, 45, a visually-challenged runner from Naugatuck, completed his second Gaylord Gauntlet run June 22 on the Gaylord Specialty Healthcare campus in Wallingford. He is legally blind from retinitis pigmentosa, a condition that causes him to see through a vision tunnel about the size of a quarter.

Over a thousand runners, in several waves, went through the 3.1-mile obstacle run. Alejandro got some help from his guides Jon Romeo, 55, of Cheshire, who surveyed the front, and Matt Romeo, Jon’s son, who ran along Alejandro’s side with a hand-held tether. He finished the course in 1 hour and 9 minutes.

Alejandro immediately got dirty in the first obstacle, as he crawled underneath wires through mud. The second challenge tested runners’ upper body strength. He climbed over a wall with small stepping blocks and was all smiles after completing those obstacles.

“Don’t hate the player, hate the game,” Alejandro said.

The whole event takes place over the 400-acre campus in Wallingford. A large portion of the obstacle run took runners through the woods, where there was a lot of shade, uneven terrain and more than a dozen obstacles waiting.

“It was very challenging,” Jon Romeo said. “[Alejandro] has such a positive attitude. He was trying to motivate other people.”

This wasn’t always the case. When Alejandro was first diagnosed, he went through a period of depression, and he would sit on the couch doing nothing. Eventually, he decided to pick up racing, and the rest is history.

Alejandro’s running resume includes three New York City marathons, a Boston marathon and a few triathlons.

“There’s people out there that can help,” Alejandro said. “Not doing something is not an option.”

He prepared very little for the Gauntlet run.

“I’m not a workout junkie. I used to,” Alejandro said. “Prepping for this, I just ran 7 miles.”

David Alejandro, right, a visually-challenged runner from Naugatuck, climbs over an obstacle during the annual Gaylord Gauntlet 5K and obstacle run June 22 on the Gaylord Specialty Healthcare campus in Wallingford. -ANDREAS YILMA

Alejandro focused on having a good time at the event, and looked forward to socializing with his Achilles International family. Achilles International is a nonprofit organization that helps people with different physical disabilities to participate in mainstream athletic events. Alejandro gives a lot of credit to Achilles International.

“Everything that I’ve done would not be possible without Achilles,” he said.

Achilles International has been working with Gaylord Hospital for five years. The 5K and obstacle run is a fundraiser to benefit the Gaylord Sports Association for disabled athletes.

Although Alejandro struggles to see, his other senses are heightened.

“I’m super sensitive to air. I get nauseous from smells,” he said. “When I walk from room to room, I get echoes.”

Gaylord Hospital Chief Medical Officer Steve Holland believed Alejandro channeled his anxiety and adrenaline to get through the course.

“His senses are firing on all cylinders,” Holland said. “This event shows his limit and he can see if he can push his limit.”

Alejandro’s next race will be the Hartford Marathon on Oct. 12, where he will try to qualify for his second Boston Marathon.

Correction: This post has been updated to correct the date of the Hartford Marathon. An earlier version incorrectly reported the marathon is Oct. 19.