Dad, born blind, is running New York City marathon to inspire sighted son

Dave Williams wants his 10-year-old son to know: "[You] can do anything you put your mind to."

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/ Source: TODAY
By Terri Peters

Dave Williams was born blind, but his lack of sight hasn't hindered his dream of becoming a marathon runner.

On November 3, just one year after taking up running, Williams will be one of more than 50,000 people running in the TCS New York City Marathon, assisted by a running guide.

Williams, who has a 10-year-old son named Arlo with his wife, Emma, says he decided to get active last October to show his son he could do anything he put his mind to. Originally Williams, who lives in the United Kingdom, wanted to cycle to get into shape, but things didn't work out the way he planned.

Dave Williams with his 10-year-old son, Arlo.Dave Williams

"I was really unfit. I didn't really do anything physical, but then when I got into my thirties — just out of boredom — I thought I might try a bit of cycling," Williams, who works in information technology, told TODAY Parents. "I did that for a couple of years, but I was really struggling to find anybody to go on the front of a tandem bike to guide me."

Williams says he found a running guide for blind athletes who he hoped to convert to being his cycling buddy.

"To cut a long story short, basically I failed and they converted me into a runner," said Williams.

But running wasn't easy for Williams in the beginning.

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"I said to this guide, 'You know what, this running thing really is not for me,'" Williams recalled. "And he just said, 'Same time next week, Dave.'"

So Williams continued to run, inspired by Arlo, who was born sighted despite doctors telling Williams and his wife their baby would most likely be born blind because they were both born with a genetic condition that impacted their sight.

Williams says since taking up running a year ago, he's lost more than 40 pounds.Dave Williams

"He's always been really active," said Williams, recalling having to place a bell on Arlo as a toddler so he and his wife could hear where he was in their home. "Just from the moment he could move, he never sat still ... he runs amazingly well, and I just thought I'd love to be able to do that with him, but physically I couldn't."

Williams began by running small races in his community. Once he was running regularly with the same guide, a 30-year-old teacher named Bex Jones, he started thinking about one day running a marathon.

"I found myself online, on the form for the New York City Marathon ballot — there may have been alcohol involved — and I thought, 'Well, I'm a runner now. Runners do marathons, that's what they do eventually once they get good enough,'" said Williams. "

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A month later, Williams received an email saying he'd secured a spot in the race. At first, he thought it was someone in his running club playing a joke on him, but when he checked his bank balance and saw the cost of the marathon had been deducted from his account, he reached out to his running guide.

"I said, 'You are not going to believe this, but apparently I've got a place in the New York City Marathon,'" said Williams. "She came straight back and said, 'Well, I'll do it.'"

Williams with his running guide, Bex Jones.Dave Williams

Williams has trained three days a week with Jones, running long distances, competing in half marathons and training on hilly terrain in preparation for the bridges along the NYC Marathon course. His wife and son will accompany him to New York City for the race, and hope to cheer him on from the sidelines.

In 2018, 52 runners registered for the NYC Marathon self-identified as having a visual impairment and approximately 136 requested to be accompanied by a guide.

Williams and Jones will run the race tethered together with a piece of fabric.

"It could get tricky in the crowds, but fortunately Bex is a teacher so she's kind of used to telling kids what to do," said Williams. "She's good at raising her voice and letting people know they've got a blind runner coming through and to get out of the way."

Williams says he has lost more than 40 pounds and dramatically reduced his alcohol intake since he began running. But it's knowing his son is proud of him that keeps him putting one foot in front of the other.

Williams hopes completing the NYC Marathon will show his son he can do anything he puts his mind to if he works hard.Dave Williams

"Arlo is really excited about all of it," said Williams. "He used to be able to run a mile or two and I couldn't run 100 yards. Now I can run beyond his farthest distance."

Williams hopes crossing the finish line teaches Arlo an important lesson: "That...if you really work hard at something and you put in the time and effort and you're resilient, than the world's your oyster — you can do whatever you put your mind to."