Blind man running 11,000 miles to fight cystic fibrosis stops in Billings

2014-07-07T00:00:00Z 2014-07-07T11:17:05Z Blind man running 11,000 miles to fight cystic fibrosis stops in BillingsBy SEAN PLEMMONS splemmons@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

No matter where David Kuhn runs, he can’t see what’s ahead of him — or, at least, not much of it.

Kuhn is blind. He sees next to nothing. He can see shadows around him of people and shapes. He can make out the white lines on different tracks he runs, but that’s about it.

He was hit by a drunken driver more than 30 years ago in a crash, which left him with irreversible damage to his eyes. Since then, he has slowly gone blind.

But it doesn’t stop him.

Kuhn, 62, is on a mission. He is running around the country to raise awareness of cystic fibrosis.

“I want to try and make a little difference for those fighting the disease,” said Kuhn, whose granddaughter has the disease. “I want to raise half a million dollars for the cause.”

Kuhn plans to run 11,000 miles by the time his journey is over. Along the way he is stopping in cities in perimeter states all around the country, running with a goal of 20 miles a day in each city he stops in. After about a week of running in one city, Kuhn takes a Greyhound bus to the next city.

On Wednesday, Kuhn was running laps around the West High School track.

Kuhn, who is from DeKalb, Ill., started his journey in Seattle. He plans to hit four corners of the country, making stops in Bangor, Maine; Jacksonville, Fla.; and San Diego before heading back to Seattle. He has a 20-mile-a-day goal so he can keep on schedule.

Word of mouth among different running clubs has drummed up most of his support. Kuhn is a mason from DeKalb Lodge 144, and he said support from other masons in each city has helped as well.

Kuhn’s run manager, Renee Kopulos, said members of different communities help to support Kuhn in his journey.

“On the first day in a new city, David doesn’t really know anyone,” Kopulos said. “But he just runs with it.”

Kopulos helps to organize Kuhn’s day-to-day activities to know where he will be staying, who he will be running with and what the next move will be. In some cities, including Billings, Kuhn was provided with complimentary hotel rooms by different hotels supporting his cause.

“I keep in contact with David multiple times a day,” Kopulos said. “At the end of every day we usually have a recap and jog our minds for what he can do the next day.”

Runners can sign up and volunteer to run with Kuhn each day. When a volunteer runs with Kuhn, they work as a guide runner holding a short rope and running in front of him, this way they are both able to traverse different terrain and running paths.

On Wednesday morning, Kuhn ran with the Yellowstone Rim Runner’s club from Billings. But sometimes when he doesn’t have a volunteer or a place to run, he runs at local tracks like West High’s.

Kuhn said he would be lost without Kopulos helping him out.

“None of this would be possible without Renee,” Kuhn said.

Kuhn said he has challenges with the journey every day.

“Because of the unpredictability of the schedule, it’s hard to nail down times to eat and sleep,” Kuhn said. “Every time I have a new hotel room, I have to memorize the layout so I don’t run into anything.”

But Kuhn said the difficulties don’t matter in the long run.

“When I have those problems, I think about my granddaughter and those with cystic fibrosis,” Kuhn said. “I can quit this any time I want, but someone with that disease has to live every day with different struggles. It puts everything into perspective.”

Kuhn wasn’t always a runner. In fact, he used to hate it. But that all changed in 1999 when he started training for a 10-mile run. He experienced his first “runner’s high.” He said after that moment, he was hooked.

Since then, he has competed in multiple marathons, including the Boston Marathon earlier this year, and several triathlons. He also plans to complete an Ironman competition in September.

Kuhn will stay in Billings until July 9, when he will take a Greyhound bus to Miles City, his next destination.

Kopulos and Kuhn said members of each community can support the cause. People can donate to Kuhn’s goal of $500,000 by going to www.itsallicando.wordpress.com, the blog run by Kopulos and Kuhn. Supporters can also track Kuhn’s progress on Facebook by going to http://facebook.com/itsallicando.

People who want to volunteer to house Kuhn, run with him or drive him places throughout the city can contact Kopulos at gallusgurl@gmail.com.

Kuhn said he hopes his journey can make some difference for his granddaughter’s care.

“I am just a scared grandpa,” Kuhn said. “The average life expectancy of someone with cystic fibrosis is 35. I want my granddaughter to at least meet that.”

Although there is no set time limit, Kuhn is almost two months into a possible 18- to 19-month trek. He plans to see his family along the way and run different marathons. And even though he has been without his family along the way, Kuhn said has learned to relax and enjoy his everyday life.

As Kuhn continues his journey through the United States meeting new people and raising awareness along the way, he has a lot to think about during his runs.

“I think about my granddaughter a lot,” Kuhn said. “I think about what it’s like to be back home. I think about everything.”

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Follow The Billings Gazette

Popular Stories

Get weekly ads via e-mail

Deals & Offers

Featured Businesses