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Finding the finish line

Legally blind runner completes New York City Marathon

  • Peterborough native Ali Lynch, left, with her guide and training partner, Jessie Rix. Courtesy photo

  • Thanks to Achilles International, Peterborough native Ali Lynch, right, has been able to run the New York City Marathon for the last two years, this year with the help of her guide and training partner, Jessie Rix. Lynch was born with achromatopsia, a non-progressive and hereditary visual disorder, where she is legally blind, very sensitive to light and color blind. Courtesy photo

  • Peterborough native Ali Lynch, left, crossing the finish line of the Boston Marathon this year with the help of her guide and training partner, Jessie Rix. Lynch was born with achromatopsia, a non-progressive and hereditary visual disorder, which means she is legally blind, very sensitive to light and color blind. Courtesy photo



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, November 13, 2018 10:54AM

At an early age, Ali Lynch’s parents told her there’s nothing she couldn't do – except for maybe drive a car legally or perform brain surgery.

And that’s only because Lynch was born with a non-progressive and hereditary visual disorder known as achromatopsia. In order for a child to have achromatopsia, both parents must carry the recessive gene, and pass it on. Both Lynch and her younger brother Ethan have the condition.

“I got two of the bad genes, but it’s a fairly uncommon disorder,” she said.

So Lynch’s vision is greatly affected in three ways. She has severe light sensitivity, so the brighter it is outside, the harder it is for her to see. On sunny days, she uses sunglasses and a visor to manage. Nighttime and darker rooms are where she can see the best

She is legally blind, as she has no long distance vision and can really only see about one-to-three-feet in front of her.

“But I’ve got really good at guessing,” she said “I look more visually capable a lot of the time than I really am. I’ve just put stuff together for 31 years of my life.”

And she’s color blind, so her perception of everything is defined by different shades of gray.

“I’ve never seen a color in my life, so it’s hard for me to even imagine beyond what I see,” she said. “But there are such small differences that my eyes do pick up.”

But none of it was going to prevent her from pursuing the goals she set in life. Lynch had the mindset she could do anything. She went to law school and is now a lawyer for Disability Rights New York, focusing on advocacy for individuals with mental health illnesses in the state’s jails and prisons. She even learned to drive a car – albeit in an empty parking lot with her dad.

“My parents thought it would be important for me to learn. In case there was ever an emergency,” she said.

And last Sunday, with the help of her training partner and guide Jessie Rix, the 31-year-old ran the New York City Marathon for the second straight year. It took her four hours and 27 minutes to run the 26.2-mile course that visits all five boroughs of the city and is what she considers to be her hometown race.

Lynch grew up in Peterborough after her family moved to town when she was six, but has called New York home since 2010 when she began law school. Her first apartment was on First Avenue and the marathon went right by her window.

“I’d be in my living room in my sweatpants, eating pizza,” Lynch said.

Over the years, she had watched the race and cheered on the runners, and in 2016, about a month after the marathon, she decided she wanted to run it. By this point, Lynch had bitten by the athletic bug. Growing up, she never really did much of anything competitively – especially running. She did a 5K with her dad, Jim, in Manchester when she was in high school, but that was about it.

Then a friend of hers asked Lynch to run a 10K in the city earlier in 2016. Lynch enjoyed the training aspect and the race, so that same friend told Lynch about Achilles International, an organization that helps people with disabilities achieve athletic goals. In April of 2016, she went to her first Achilles workout in Central Park and by the next month, she was training for a triathlon.

“Not really knowing how to swim and not been on a bike for a long time, I said sure, why not,” Lynch said.

In July of that year, she competed in – and finished – her first triathlon, which included a swim in the Hudson River.

“Not my best idea, but I made it,” Lynch said.

And over the last two years and a half years, Lynch has competed in seven triathlons, from a sprint distance all the way up to a half ironman. She’s already got a half ironman planned for May in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“I go from zero to 100 pretty quick. It’s that lawyer Type A personality in me,” she said.

When Lynch decided she wanted to run the New York City Marathon, she had 11 months to get ready. But with all her training for triathlons, she was more than ready to take on that challenge. So last November, she ran her first marathon, going right by that apartment on First Avenue. She chopped seven minutes off her time in a year and was 23 minutes ahead of the average finish time for women. And it’s pretty easy to see why.

Since that first marathon last November, Lynch ran the California International Marathon in December 2017, about a month after New York with a half marathon in between. She then took to the streets of Boston in April – in terrible weather – and then last weekend ran New York again. That’s four marathons in a year for someone who has only been running for less than three years. Oh yeah, and she’s running California again next month and is registered for Boston this coming April.

“I originally said one and done. I’m never doing that again,” Lynch said. “Then I just kep thing about it. I couldn’t leave it at one and done. I could do better.”

Rix has run with Lynch in Boston and New York, just completing her 10th marathon. Having a guide helps with sudden changes in the course, preparing for hills and navigating through crowds.

“It’s really helpful. We’re really working together as a team,” Lynch said. “And we really enjoy training with each other.”

Lynch said she could do the race without a guide, but it sure is a lot easier with someone there, so she can focus on the run and not all the little things that sighted people don’t have an issue with.

While Lynch enjoys all that comes with the competition, she greatly enjoys the training – sometimes so much that she forgets to take days off. But it all goes back to that mindset her parents instilled in her all those years ago.

“I give so much credit to my parents,” Lynch said. “From day one they said there’s nothing you can’t do.”

As for any plans to slow down? It’s just not in the cards – there’s no way that Type A personality will let her.


Thanks to Achilles International, Peterborough native Ali Lynch, right, has been able to run the New York City Marathon for the last two years, this year with the help of her guide and training partner, Jessie Rix. Lynch was born with achromatopsia, a non-progressive and hereditary visual disorder, where she is legally blind, very sensitive to light and color blind. Courtesy photo Thanks to Achilles International, Peterborough native Ali Lynch, right, has been able to run the New York City Marathon for the last two years, this year with the help of her guide and training partner, Jessie Rix. Lynch was born with achromatopsia, a non-progressive and hereditary visual disorder, where she is legally blind, very sensitive to light and color blind. - Courtesy photo