David Alejandro was 31 when he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston. He is legally blind. He has no peripheral vision. He cannot see at night. He can see straight ahead, but his field of vision is no larger than a quarter, as in the coin.
“I spent five years on a couch feeling sorry for myself,” said Alejandro, now 43.
But in the summer of 2010, while visiting family in Florida, Alejandro jumped off that sofa. He was angry, mad at the world and mad at himself.
“I ran outside, and the road there was straight and flat, and I just started running,” Alejandro said. “I ran all the way to a bridge, which was about a mile, and then I ran back.”
In those frantic moments, David Alejandro came back to life.
“That said to me that there was nothing that I could not do,” he said.
For the past eight years, nothing has stopped Alejandro, and Alejandro has not stopped running. He has run three New York City marathons and three Hartford marathons. On Monday, when they run the 122nd Boston Marathon, Alejandro will be there to run Boston for the first time.
Alejandro, a Bridgeport native and Naugatuck resident, runs for himself, runs for salvation, in a way, and runs to prove something.
“I just want to keep going,” he said, “and show people it is OK to have something wrong, and that you can still have a positive outlook on life. You have to step out of the negative zone and do stuff that is positive.”
Alejandro’s family was stunned back in 2010 when he said that he planned to run a marathon.
“I got inspired, and that flame does not go out,” he said.
That spark came, in part, when a family member told him, understandably, that a blind man can’t run a marathon.
“That burned me,” Alejandro said. “I got that ‘I-will-show-you attitude.’ You can turn a negative into a positive.”
Initially, his family “didn’t understand this burning flame.”
Alejandro, who lives to inspire, ran that first marathon in 2010. He started at the top, at the New York City Marathon.
He did it by himself. No guide runner, 26.2 miles, all alone.
Alejandro made a connection that day. While in New York, he was pointed in the direction of a group called Achilles International, a nonprofit organization that helps people with disabilities compete in athletics.
With the aid of volunteer guide runners provided by Achilles International, Alejandro runs marathons. He swims, bikes and runs in triathlons, such as the 2015 Pat Griskus Olympic distance triathlon, and even the Gaylord Gauntlet in Wallingford, a 5K race that has obstacles like mud, fire and water.
Training for a marathon is as grueling as the race itself. Alejandro runs on a treadmill, one might think. Nope.
“You feel like a hamster if you run on a treadmill,” he said.
Alejandro gets out on the road every day, and runs from his home in Naugatuck to Lake Quassapaug in Middlebury. He runs on the streets and runs on the Naugatuck Bridal Trail. It equals a half-marathon, he said.
“I am by myself,” he said, “but I have my cane and my blind runner shirt.”
And though he can see straight ahead, his vision is poor. “Yes,” he said, in anticipation of the next question. He falls, often.
“I have busted my chops plenty of times. But this is how I live my life. There is no stopping me,” said the former landscaper. “The day I stop will be the day that they tie me down.”
He ran the 2017 Hartford Marathon in 4 hours, 10 minutes. That qualified him for Boston. The Boston Marathon standard for visually impaired runners is 5 hours, but the quota for visually impaired runners is 70. That put the cut-off time this year at 4:30.
“I beat that by 20 minutes,” he said proudly.
“He is an inspiration,” said Cheshire’s Jon Romeo, 53, who is often Alejandro’s guide runner and will be by his side on Monday. “David is one of the most positive people that I ever met. He has challenges, but he doesn’t let anything get in his way. He talks to people during the race, and he motivates them.”
This will be their fourth marathon together. They were a team at Hartford in 2017, when Alejandro qualified for Boston.
“We use a tether,” Romeo explained, “a cord that he holds in his left hand and I hold in my right. We run elbow-to-elbow, wrist-to-wrist. I also use voice commands for turns or at water stations.”
In a packed field like New York or Boston, every step is its own danger, especially around water stations, where the road is slippery and cups and energy packets litter the course.
“David is a fun guy to be around,” Romeo added. “He plans to run the Cheshire half-marathon (April 29), and he asked me to be his guide runner. I am honored to run with him.”
Alejandro runs for time, of course, he runs for joy and, most importantly, he runs for life.
“When I run, I start at one point and try to get to the next point,” he said.
That next point is the finish line, where his wife, Tracy, waits.
“That’s my destination, to get to my wife. She is my foundation. She waits for me in the rain, in all weather. She is always there.”
Alejandro is always there, too, at the start line and at the finish.
“I run marathons so that people can see people like me and say, ‘Hey, I want to do that, too,’” Alejandro said. “And I tell them, ‘You can do it.’”
“It is the accomplishment factor,” he added. “I start somewhere and I finish. That’s what this is about. There is an end point to everything, but this is about the journey, all the stuff between the beginning and the end. I want to keep doing this because I might not be able to do it in the future. I might not be able to do this tomorrow. There are no guarantees, like they say, except death and taxes.”