CHARLES TOWN – Running competitively is tough. It takes strength and determination. One Charles Town woman has both, and she continues to compete despite facing yet another challenge: she’s blind.
Keryl Rustin, 73, had the distinction of being the first blind runner in the Maryland Senior Olympics on Sept. 4 in Gaithersburg, Maryland. She finished fifth in her age group in the 5K run. Next May, she will be competing in the National Senior Games Association in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
Her accomplishment is impressive enough because she did so much not being able to see, and she hasn’t even been running that long. She began running in November last year.
“I wanted to do something recreational. I wanted to get out of the house,” said Rustin, a Jefferson County resident for more than 20 years. “I’ve always loved the outdoors.”
No trainer was involved with her runs. She would stretch, say a prayer then take off down the road.
“I would run with my eight-year-old granddaughter Gabbi,” Rustin said. “She would tell me if there was gravel in the road or when to turn.”
A cheerful woman with an easy laugh and broad, bright smile, Rustin began running in fundraising events for different local charities. She decided to take on the Maryland Senior Olympics. However, she almost didn’t make it. She had made arrangements for transportation and for someone to guide her at the event, but those arrangements fell through during the Labor Day weekend before the run.
“I was determined to get there even if I had to knock on doors all over the neighborhood,” she said. “My best friend, Kathy Hansen, had told me she would not be home, but luckily her plans had changed.
“My big concern was getting there. Somehow I knew I would find someone to guide me once I arrived. I just said I’m going to do this.”
When no one offered to help at the event, Rustin decided she would get by listening to the other runners’ footsteps. Suddenly, a man behind her started telling her where to go. She ended up pulling ahead of him.
“I couldn’t keep track of the footsteps anymore and I froze,” Rustin said. “Then I heard another voice say, ‘Go right.’ I ran then started to freeze again when I heard that other voice say, ‘Keep running straight.’”
Rustin said she is very spiritual, with prayer being an important part of her routine. “I’m convinced that voice was from the divine,” she said.
Rustin said she has always kept a positive attitude. Other runners who have competed with her refer to her as “the rejoiceful runner.” Even though running as a blind person can be intimidating, Rustin said she has a lot of “grit.”
Originally from Baltimore, she worked for several nonprofit agencies in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Martinsburg. She had to wear glasses for years but couldn’t see things clearly. She was eventually diagnosed with a rare neurological condition that was inoperable. That condition robbed her of her sight.
However, her determination has seen her through. It has also led to a life full of firsts.
“Friends and relatives who have done research say I’m the first blind 5K runner for West Virginia,” she said. “I’m proud of that.”
To her knowledge, after some research, she could very well be the first blind 5K runner in the country, Rustin said.
There are other firsts. Rustin is the first African American president of the Eastern Panhandle Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind in West Virginia, a chapter she founded. She is the first blind African American woman on the Eastern Panhandle Transit Authority; the first African American woman on the board of the National Federation of the Blind in West Virginia; and the first blind African American woman to represent a political party as a state convention delegate.
She writes poetry and has had six books published, including self-help works. She is trying to get another book published called “Transform Negative Emotions into Positivity.”
She continues working as a motivational speaker.
“I want people to know they should keep positive,” she offered. “For example, the Maryland Senior Olympics has all kinds of events, not just running. Try it.”