Braille Monitor               December 2023

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Veteran finishes the Half-Marathon at the Cleveland Marathon, while serving as an Inspiration for Blind Athletes

by Irie Harris

Published May 21, 2023, on Cleveland.com©
All rights reserved. REPRINTED/USED with permission.

From the Editor: Part of our agreement to run this article was that it not be edited in the least. This means we have not applied Monitor style for the writing of numbers, worried about serial commas, or corrected in any way sentences in which we might have assisted in the flow. We believe that what is offered here is of value and appreciate the permission given to us to run it.

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Throughout Sunday, the cheers from Cleveland Marathon spectators along the sidewalk were at a moderate volume. The only occasions where the cheers or music increased were when the marathon’s winners or a fan’s friend or family crossed the finish line.

But there was a moment of its own when two men and the cheers became quite loud. Was it their outfits? They were standard outfits for runners, yet a bit more colorful.

A marathon MC then stuck the microphone near the men and asked them about the race, in which one of them mentioned, “I’m blind.” And as they walked closer to receive their medals, the outfits made sense. The speaker, Jose Centeno, wore a baby blue-toned vest featuring the word, “blind” in large black letters.

Underneath the vest was a collared shirt with “National Federation of the Blind,” and on top of his was U.S. Marine Corps Veteran hat.

The audience of the 2023 Cleveland Marathon was recognizing that Centeno, a 67-year old blind man and U.S. Marine Corps veteran, completed the half-marathon. Beside him was his race guide and coach, Mike Stokes, who wore a shirt with, “Team RWB” (Red White and Blue).

“It was a wonderful 13.1 [miles], I really really enjoyed running this Cleveland Half Marathon with my friends,” Centeno said.

Centeno’s race could’ve came to an end toward the last stretch because of his arthritis, but he kept going. The Dayton native crossed the line with a finishing time of 2 hours, 41 minutes, and 4 seconds.

“Usually at the 10-mile marker, that’s when I start falling apart because of arthritis in my left knee, but he (Stokes) didn’t tell me that,” Centeno said. “We passed the 10-mile marker, then when we got to the 11th (marker), then that kind of motivated me more because with 2 miles to go, that just gave me the high.”

Add in a scraped and bloody knee due a fall during the race, and this was quite the battle won by Centeno.

“I kinda fell, but it was great,” Centeno said while smiling.

He was quick to cite all his supporters, including Stokes, his friend Keith, and Mickey, a dog sitting in a backpack on Keith’s back.

Centeno also pointed toward his collared shirt with “National Federation of the Blind” featured on it, and cited their support.

“The National Federation knows that it is not a characteristic that defines blind people and our future. It’s a great organization,” Centeno said.

And beside him was Stokes, a coach and member of Team Red, White and Blue, an organization focused on keeping former veterans active in life.

“Our mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans and we just like to keep veterans active and healthy,” Stokes said. “And the best thing you can do is get out there and move.”

They hadn’t known each other until introduced by the Cleveland Institute, and once meeting, their friendship took off.

“I didn’t know Jose until Team RWB introduced him to us, so the Cleveland Institute reached our organization, asking us if we can help him out and we were glad to,” Stokes said.

But there was a time when Centeno’s smile wasn’t as big as it was on Sunday.

After serving for 21 years, Centeno was hired by the U.S. Post Office in 1996. At some point he contracted glaucoma, but was on medication and could still see. In August of 2015, his vision took turn for worse due to the glaucoma. Centeno is blind in his right eye, and can only see shadows with his left eye.

“When I went blind, I got so depressed, that the doctor wanted to put me on medication, but I said, ‘No way,’ ” Centeno said. “I’m gonna do what I was doing before I was blind and that as running, and so I started to run again.”

By that point, he was back into running, connected with Team RWB, and he hasn’t stopped since.

“Even if you’re not a veteran, and you’re blind, go out there and do something,” he said. “Don’t let your blindness get you depressed.”

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