Even in a field of ultrarunning greats, Jason Romero stands out.
That was the case last July when the Colorado-born athlete lined up among 97 of the world’s toughest runners to test his body and soul in what is described as the world’s toughest footrace.
The 2015 Badwater Ultramarathon tested its runners with a 135-mile journey through the searing heat of Death Valley, 14,000 feet of descent and ascent, dust storms, rain and lightning, sleep deprivation and more.
“There were several times that I didn’t know if I was going to make it,” admitted Romero. “I’ve never ever had that experience before.”
Romero made his assessment the day after completing the race in a record 39 hours, 59 minutes, 59 seconds. That is a record for a blind runner.
However, Romero is not ready to rest on his laurels. On March 25, the 46-year-old retired lawyer will embark on a transcontinental run – Los Angeles to Boston, or, roughly 3,500 miles – to show other blind runners that there are no obstacles to what they can accomplish.
“I will run across America,” Romero said, not in a cocky or brash voice but in a confident tone.
Don’t count out Romero, who has used his running prowess to bring attention to the blind community and “to break down barriers to what people think the visually impaired can or cannot do.”
Since middle school, Romero has suffered from retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative retinal disease that will eventually render him totally blind. That has led him to “involuntarily retire” from a career that included being an executive in charge of a $400 million company with General Electric in Latin America and CEO of a nonprofit.
That has allowed him to focus on running. More running. And, even more running.
Last year, in addition to his Badwater triumph, Romero won the marathon at the World Paralympic Championships in Qatar in April. At the end of the year, he ran seven marathons in seven days.
Some runners call him “relentless.” That is the reason for his website – www.relentlessromero.com – where he is currently promoting his upcoming run across the United States.
Why is he running across America?
“I was given a gift of being able to run, and I want to use that gift to make this Earth a better place,” said Romero, who gave up driving in 2014 because of his vision. “Running has always helped me in times of joy and struggle.
“What I can tell you is that one day, in a moment, it was clear to me that this was something I was going to do. ‘Life’ would just have to wait, or as I choose to believe, ‘Living could finally begin.’”
Romero has heard adjectives like “amazing,” “awesome” and “inspirational” thrown his way by fellow runners.
“I don’t think there is anything so amazing about it. What I wish is that if every blind person out there with his hidden blindness went out there (and) wore a blind bib that everyone would be accepting of it,” he said.
I was given a gift of being able to run, and I want to use that gift to make this Earth a better place.
Romero wants to break down the barriers not just for blindness, but other physical handicaps like autism (one of his three children has autism) or racial discrimination.
“I set a different example for my kids so hopefully they don’t see colors; but, it still exists and it’s out there,” he said. “Hopefully, me doing this running thing and being open about my blindness can help somebody else.”
His effort at a “Triple Crown” – Badwater, a 185-mile run across Puerto Rico (he lived there for six years and established a non-profit organization for autistic children) and the grueling Spartathlon, a 152-mile run from Athens to Sparta – ended when he had to drop out of the Greek race due to fatigue at the 100-mile mark. “I will go back to Spartathlon, and I will finish that race; and I will demonstrate that a blind person can finish it. ONWARD!,” he wrote in a blog.
Romero excelled in wrestling, football and track in high school. He majored in Business Administration at the University of San Diego and earned his law degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Romero currently holds world record for visually impaired athletes for the 100-mile, 24-hour, 48-hour and 72-hour runs.
Badwater had been on Romero’s mind ever since he began running marathons in 1993. “I heard that people were running through the desert. I couldn’t wrap my head about it. I thought, ‘Those people are crazy! There’s no way a person can survive!,” he said.
Badwater turned out to be the type of challenge that Romero thrives on. His limited vision forced him to use a guide in the early part of Badwater when guides are normally not allowed. He finished 55th out of the 97 runners who started the race.
Romero believes he can finish Badwater in about 30 hours. Last Sunday, he ran a personal-best 2:50 at the Houston Marathon. A future effort at Badwater is not out of the question for Romero.
His motto is “Who needs sight when you have vision?”