BIO

Have you ever been told that something invaluable was going to be taken away from you? No, I am not talking about a favorite toy, your Xbox, or your driving privileges. I am referring to your eyesight.

My name is Mark and I have Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative eye disease that damages the retina, causing severe vision impairment and blindness.

I began to experience my symptoms around age 13. Sports, especially team sports, were becoming difficult to play. I had trouble seeing the basketball hit the rim or receiving a pass; I had even greater difficulty performing lay-ups. Little did I know my peripheral vision was slowly diminishing.

In baseball, I had trouble with depth perception which made it difficult to judge fly balls. I enjoyed pitching the most because all I had to do was focus on the catcher’s mitt! Yet, despite all of these challenges, I continued to play sports.

I can remember the day my dad took me to Will’s Eye Hospital in Philadelphia for a battery of eye tests. There were hours of eye drops and bright, flashing lights. I was asked to find tiny dots inside a semi-dome, then press a clicker every time I saw one. Then came the moment I will never forget. The eye doctor approached where I was sitting. My Dad stood beside me. “Retinitis Pigmentosa,” the doctor diagnosed. In a nutshell, he explained, I was eventually going to lose my eyesight.

The ride home was the longest and quietest ride of my life.

After my diagnosis, I still played sports, learned how to drive, graduated from high school, college and earned a Master’s Degree. I had wanted to be a Physical Education teacher and coach basketball but after teaching P.E. for several years, I realized this was not a realistic career path. I went on to teach 2nd grade in New Jersey.

At this point, none of my colleagues knew I had an eye problem, not even my principal. In hindsight, I should have been up front with my administrators and colleagues. I felt that my disability would have cost me my job. I had a hard time working and not feeling comfortable sharing with others about my eye disease. I eventually left anyway and decided I would inform my next employer up front about my condition.

Trenton Public Schools was having a job fair. It was at this fair that my life was about to change. I waited one hour in line for the opportunity to interview with Mrs. Maryann Klaus, principal of Franklin Elementary. I told her right from the beginning that I was partly deaf and visually impaired. I told her that I wanted to teach in spite of my challenges. For the first time I was completely honest with myself and others that I had a visual impairment. I was excited. Later that day, I was told I had the job. Over the course of 15 years, I gained a second family in the colleagues and principals I worked for and alongside. They will always be dear to my heart.

Visual impairment and/or blindness due to R.P. happens gradually, over a period of time and at different rates. Fortunately, my sight has diminished slowly and I still have some central vision left. I am thankful that doctors told me my vision is stable for now.

After I walked away from teaching for 19 years, I had too much energy to sit around and do nothing. I became involved with the Philadelphia chapter of Achilles International. This amazing organization helps athletes with disabilities achieve personal goals. Since joining in March 2012, I have run two full marathons (Philadelphia, 2014; NYC, 2015), four half-marathons, several 10-milers, 8K’s, and 5K’s, and completed a sprint triathlon and Down & Dirty Obstacle Race (mud run). Through friends at Achilles, I connected with another wonderful group of athletes called Fishtown Beer Runners. These two fantastic organizations have made running a very positive experience.

Running with the assistance of amazing volunteer guides opened up opportunities in my hometown of Newtown, PA, to raise awareness about visual diseases.

One day, my friend Candis and I shared our goals for the future and what we wanted to achieve at some time in our lives. The subject of wanting to host a 5K to raise awareness about blindness became a reality. Our first Bookin’ for Lookin’ 5K Race took place in June 2012. Its message was to raise awareness and funds to help fight blindness! Thankfully, with the support of amazing people like you, Bookin’ for Lookin’ is still fighting blindness one stride at a time five years later!

Today, with the support of my family and friends, my Philly Achilles and Fishtown Beer Runner peeps, and my local running/spinning guides, I continue to look for ways to run, swim, bike, and even ski! Life isn’t over for me – I will always embrace new challenges and keep on bookin’.

One day, I truly believe that I will be able to drive my favorite car (1969 SuperSport Camaro), run without being tethered and walk without a cane.