Blind runner from UHart heading to Paralympic Games

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HARTFORD – A recent University of Hartford graduate is going for the gold, headed to Rio to compete in the Paralympics.

Credit: University of Hartford

Credit: University of Hartford

Chaz Davis of Grafton, Massachusetts, lost his vision three years ago to a rare disease while he was a freshman at the University of Hartford.

With his vision loss came the fear of losing his ability to ever run again.

It all started when he woke up one day and didn’t have vision in his right eye. He said he couldn’t make out text on a paper, or see faces; everything was a blur.

A few months later, the same happened to his left eye and he was diagnosed with Leber hereditary optic neuropathy, a rare, incurable genetic disease that causes vision loss.

“I was devastated,” Davis said. “I was really focused more on the things that I was losing instead of the things I still had and the things I could do.”

For months he said he fell into a depression and gained about 40 pounds, until one day he decided to try and channel his energy into the thing he loved most, running.

“Whenever I would get stressed or life would really throw a lot of challenges my way, running would really alleviate a lot of that stress,” he said.

With the help of his teammates, Kyle Hamel and Rourik Marlow, he was able to get back on his feet. They trained together, helping guide Davis on their runs.

“We wanted to try to give him back what he had lost,” Hamel said. “At first it was very intimidating, very scary. It was dangerous, there was a lot of setbacks that happened, running into poles, or tripping on curbs or things like that.”

Hamel said Davis’ perseverance and determination is incredible and inspiring.

“His senior year he basically went all-in and is training like he is now and he was our top runner on our team,” Marlow said.

Now, just a few months after graduation, Davis is headed to Rio to compete in the Paralympics.

“I’m really looking forward to it, it's been a goal of mine for about three years and I’m just really happy it's been able to come true,” he said. “To get to the level that I’m at now was a huge journey and the road definitely wasn’t easy.”

Davis will be competing in the 1,500-meter run on September 11 and the 5,000-meter run on September 15. He leaves for the trip Sunday.

“It's great I’m so happy for him he’s come a long way I wish everyone could have seen him 3 years ago it's great what he’s done,” Marlow said. “He’s an inspiration to everyone.”

The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games will be held from September 7-18, 2016.

Davis will be one of 4,350 athletes from more than 160 countries taking part in the games.