In tandem with friends and family, blind veteran rediscovers joy of running

Dayton resident Jose Centeno to run Xenia Half-Marathon Sunday.

U.S. Marine Corps veteran Jose Centeno may be legally blind, but the Dayton resident has no trouble seeing his way to an immediate goal: Finishing Sunday’s Ohio River Road Runners Club Half-Marathon in Xenia in about two hours and 20 minutes.

A larger goal is within reach as well, the 67-year-old man said in an interview Friday at the Dayton VA Medical Center.

“I’m kind of becoming independent,” Centeno said with a smile. “That’s the most important thing.”

Centeno will run the 13.1 mile course in tandem with Dayton VA optometrist and race guide Tim Morand, bound by an elastic band and a belief in each other.

The race starts and finishes at the Xenia YMCA, 336 Progress Drive.

In a sense, Centeno’s most challenging journey began in October 2015, when glaucoma took his vision almost completely.

A 20-year Marine veteran who left the service as a staff sergeant, Centeno was working as a letter carrier at the Dayton View Post Office when he lost his vision. Years of sight issues had troubled him, but he was controlling it for a time with eyedrops and other treatments.

Then controlling it became impossible. Today, Centeno has no vision in his right eye, and in his left, he perceives only shadows — shades of varying light and darkness.

Today, when he runs on the trail next to the Great Miami River, he perceives the paved area as “light” and the grass next to it as “dark.”

But that’s today. At first, when Centeno first lost his sight, it seemed running was a thing of the past.

“I was very depressed,” Centeno said. “All of my life I’ve been a runner. I’ve run marathons and half-marathons. ... I was very depressed. I stayed in bed. I just didn’t do anything.”

He met Morand at the Dayton VA’s Low Vision Clinic in late 2015. Morand directed him to a rehabilitation program at the Cleveland VA.

That turned out to be good advice.

“I was still trying to get over my blindness,” Centeno recalled of those first months. “You know this cane here” — he held up his white cane with a distinctive round bottom tip — “I looked at it as my enemy. I didn’t like this cane.”

The anger he felt during his early attempts at mobilization eventually led to a return to running. Centeno was able to tentatively pace himself on treadmills in rehab, buoyed by inflatable devices to support him.

Morand said therapists in Cleveland were able to show Centeno that while he could not run as he once did, he could still run in a new way.

“At the time, it looked like it really did make a difference,” Morand said. “They sort of walked him one step at a time to get him back to where he could be coordinated while running.”

The therapists gradually removed the inflatable support to let Centeno support his own weight on treadmills. In time, he ran only with an elastic band around his waist.

He graduated from rehabilitation in May 2016. When he returned to Dayton, he persuaded Morand to run a half-marathon in Huber Heights with him.

Though Centeno’s son Patrick guided him in that first race, a running relationship with Morand was launched.

They have ran in tandem at least five times. Morand alerts him to potholes, curbs and other obstacles on the course — including other runners.

“I’m sort of shielding him from running into someone else,” Morand said.

“Sometimes I say to myself, there has to be a reason why I’m blind,” Centeno said. “I still question the reason why. But you know from running half-marathons and all that, I’m beginning to understand why.”

He hopes his experience serves as an inspiration to others, whether they’re blind or not.

“I’m telling them, they can do it,” Centeno said. “Get up from your couch and stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

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