India’s first visually impaired athlete running against all odds

ANANYA REVANNA Bengaluru | Updated on January 12, 2018

Sagar Baheti, Indias first visually-impaired runner

Five years ago, business person Sagar Baheti was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease, a kind of macular degeneration that eventually leads to legal blindness. A rare and incurable condition, it put a dent in the life he led. As his vision progressively worsened he started to run; not away, but towards something.

Always interested in sports, he decided to use his athletic abilities to make a difference. In an attempt to raise awareness on visual impairment in India, the 31-year-old will, in April, become India’s first visually impaired runner to take part in the Boston Marathon.

Awareness and support

While participating in the event itself is an achievement for some, Sagar perceives it as a platform to generate awareness.

“Of course, it’s a big thing to run the Boston Marathon but I look at it from a different perspective. I want to start a support group for visually impaired people in India, and that’s only possible if I have some credibility. So, as much as I love running, taking part in the Boston Marathon is a way to motivate those who face the same problems to not give up and to make others take notice of the issues we face,” he says.

He is using this opportunity to raise $7,500 for the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, an organisation that builds advanced low-vision devices that make daily commutes easier for the visually impaired, on the crowd-funding platform CrowdRise.

A cricket enthusiast from a young age, he decided to try different forms of exercise when his vision started to decline. It was while playing cricket that he noticed something was wrong. “I wasn’t able to spot the ball,” says Sagar, “And I thought my power had increased. But the ophthalmologist sent me to a general physician, who in turn directed me to a retina specialist.” Though he was diagnosed in 2012, his vision was clear until 2014.

Making a difference

“I could drive, write, read… At the time, I didn’t know the implications of the condition. My life changed drastically in 2014 and I tried everything to get better; I reached out to doctors all over the world, tried alternative therapy… but there’s no cure.”

Realising his privilege, Sagar saw this as an opportunity to do something. “The more you put yourself in difficult situations, the better. I don’t need to work; if I wanted, I could live a comfortable life but I don’t want that. My eyesight will only get worse from here so I want to be prepared. Hopefully, this way I can help people who are less privileged.”

He recently finished a seven-day, 900-km cycling tour of the Nilgiris. He goes at his own pace and travels with a group, letting the bright jerseys guide him, which is how he runs as well. “You don’t need to see to run a marathon. My vision isn’t that bad so I can see obstructions at the pace I’m going.”

Published on January 04, 2017

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