Carbondale runner defies blindness to finish second Boston Marathon | PostIndependent.com

Carbondale runner defies blindness to finish second Boston Marathon

Austin Colbert
The Aspen Times

Pete Fowler might have been among the more nervous runners at the Boston Marathon on Monday, even though he wasn't officially competing. The Carbondale resident is a relative newbie at the distance, yet it was his job to guide Kyle Coon to the finish, helping maneuver him safely through a field of nearly 27,000 people.

"I just appreciated the offer and was pretty psyched to do it, but it comes with that slight undercurrent of vague unease since I'm not really an experienced marathoner," Fowler said Thursday. "It's awesome what he's doing. It's plenty hard to run a marathon or do an Ironman with full vision. So he's kind of taking it to the next level."

Coon needed the guidance because for the past 20 years he's been blind. At 10 months old he was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer. By 6 years, both of his eyes had been removed. Naturally, this ordeal was tough for Coon to deal with, but over the years he's found a way to repeatedly defy the odds.

"I obviously went through a kind of down period where I just didn't know what to do," Coon said. "I went from being a little kid playing basketball and riding my bike and doing all kinds of stuff to feeling I couldn't do anything."

Coon said he was inspired by Erik Weihenmayer, a fellow Colorado resident who became a friend. Coon was introduced to Weihenmayer before he had become the first blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 2001.

Fast forward to Monday, where the 26-year-old Coon — who lives in Carbondale — finished his second Boston Marathon in as many years.

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His official time of 3 hours, 55 minutes, 14 seconds was significantly faster than the 4:18:18 he recorded in 2017, despite the cold, wet weather in the Northeast this week.

Coon said he's only competed in five standalone marathons, including the two Boston races. His first marathon came only a couple years ago in the Walt Disney World Marathon in Orlando, where he did the 2015 Goofy Challenge, which involves running a half marathon the day before the full marathon.

"He's always had a little extra umph, for sure. He's never let his disability get in the way of doing what he wants to," Kyle's younger sister, Kelsey Coon, said. "He is very unique in that way. He's just a really cool guy, always pushing the limits and inspiring myself to do my best. We've never really seen it as a hindrance."

Kelsey Coon, one of the four Coon siblings, also ran the Boston Marathon on Monday, her first time competing in the iconic race. She finished in 3:51:13, well behind her qualifying time of 3:27:33 she ran at the Aspen Valley Marathon last summer, where she finished second among women.

While Kelsey Coon started running before her brother, it's been Kyle's gung-ho approach to his disability and to athletics that has fueled her desire to try to keep pace.

"It's pretty incredible to see both of our growth throughout the sport and just be there for each other," Kelsey Coon said. "He's always going big. He's always pushing me. I think he just jumped right into marathons. He's crazy in that way."

Kyle Coon moved to Carbondale at the end of 2016 from Florida, following in the footsteps of his parents and sisters who moved to the area only the year or two prior.

The Coons would vacation in Snowmass on a regular basis, and it was through Challenge Aspen Kyle Coon learned to ski.

The pull finally became too much that most of the family now calls the valley home.

"I finally just got tired of living in Florida and wanted to get out here, as well," Coon said. "So I left my job and moved out here and just started training full time and getting into the community and remembered and realized why I loved visiting."

It was through the group runs put on by Carbondale's Independence Run and Hike that Coon met Fowler. The two became friends through running and eventually Coon asked Fowler to be his guide for Boston, even though Fowler had only competed in one prior marathon.

As much as he enjoyed Boston, Kyle Coon still has much he wants to accomplish.

An avid triathlete and Ironman, his next big challenge will be June's Race Across America, which is labeled as the "world's toughest bicycle race." He'll compete as a team, riding tandem bikes as they have nine days to ride the more than 3,000 miles from Oceanside, California, to Annapolis, Maryland.

"I absolutely have different perspectives on what fun is," Coon said. "I've always freely admitted I have a screw or two loose."

acolbert@aspentimes.com