Charles-Edouard Catherine lost his sight three years ago. But thanks to his persuasive wife, Achilles International and others, he is achieving his dreams.
By Henry Howard
For many first-time marathoners, the first glimpse of the finish line signals the end of an incredible journey.
Charles-Edouard Catherine never saw the finish line as he approached then crossed the timing mat at the end of 26.2 miles at the New York City Marathon.
Three years ago, Catherine lost his sight — and with it his self-esteem and motivation.
From depression to marathon runner
Catherine is legally blind; he can see shapes and daylight. He was diagnosed at age 3 with RP, a macular degeneration. “No matter how much I prepared myself, losing my sight at age 24 was a huge shock, especially because it happened when I moved from France to the U.S., three years ago.”
Alexandra, his “very persuasive” wife, realized that his depression had grown. “I was angry. I felt as if I had been robbed of something. She told me that I should join Achilles, which I did in March 2014.” Achilles International is a global organization that helps people with disabilities participate in mainstream athletics.
“She saw them in Central Park several times, and she knew that it would be perfect for me,” Catherine says. “I didn’t want to join them at first, because I didn’t want to face my disability. I was in deep denial. I didn’t want to accept that from now on I would need a guide to go for a casual run.”
But Catherine did hook up with Achilles, and it changed his life.
“I started with four miles at a 9- or 10-minute pace,” he says. “I was totally exhausted afterwards, but I loved it! Three months later I was in my first race, then in my first triathlon, and I just ran my first marathon!”
“I then understood that I wasn’t robbed of anything, I just had to adjust, do things differently.”
Catherine has a group of 10-15 guides who take turns “suffering with him.” He says each one has become a friend. In fact, “I often forget that they are here to guide me. That’s the great thing about Achilles. Some of them are great champions, some of them are people like me, that just want to become faster runners.”
‘Anything is possible’
With his depression gone and his confidence back, Catherine has “a knack to push people.” And push himself as well. That’s why he chose New York City as his first marathon.
“The New York City Marathon is my favorite day of the year in the city,” he says. “I like to say that it’s like St Patrick’s Day, without the drunk people. I think that seeing those runners every year was key, those people kept telling me that anything is possible. I wanted to be one of them.”
Catherine thoroughly enjoyed his first marathon experience. “The NYC marathon is a love letter. You get support from everyone, millions of people, thousands of runners, it’s incredible. Especially when you have an Achilles jersey on your shoulders.”
As it turned out, Catherine served as an inspiration to other runners.
Around Mile 5, he recalls, another runner came over to me and said, “Charles, we are running at the same pace. Do you mind if I stay with you guys?” Catherine told the other runner, named Ed, that he did not mind at all.
“He stayed with me the whole way,” Catherine says. “He even became a guide. He would yell at people, ‘Blind runner coming through.’ When I was really hurting on Fifth Avenue, he coached me. He didn’t stop talking to me. It was wonderful. He would say to the crowd. ‘This is Charles; he is a blind runner. This is his first marathon, and right now, he needs your help!’
“You have no idea how fantastic the crowd’s response was. It was like a wave carrying me to the finish line.”
It wasn’t just Ed and Achilles International that helped get Catherine to the finish line. He ticks off a list of his sources of inspiration:
“I am proud and stubborn, my guides know how to challenge me. I am very competitive, stupidly competitive. I raise money for Achilles. I often have my wife waiting for me at the finish line, and she doesn’t like to wait!
“I remember how proud I am to be part of Achilles. The most difficult thing was not to run the marathon, it was to be able to get out of my apartment that very first day. Every race after that is a victory.”
And, speaking of races, Catherine is not stopping after NYC. His next goals are the Boston Marathon in April and a half Ironman next summer. “My dream is to do an Ironman, a long distance triathlon which ends with a marathon. So it’s a good way for me to get familiar with the distance.”
Catherine invites anyone to join Achilles in Central Park for their weekly runs, Saturdays at 10 a.m. at 90th Street and Fifth Avenue.
“Achilles is my second family; trust me, you will meet a lot of very inspiring people,” he says. “Oh, and next time someone tells you that you can’t do something that you really want to do, well, just laugh.”
Name: Charles-Edouard Catherine
Hometown: New York City, originally from Rennes, France
Number of years running: 18 months
Point of pride: Crossing the finish line of the NYC marathon is up there, but winning in my category in my first Olympic distance triathlon, and doing it again the following year was very special.
Favorite race distance: 10Ks or half marathons, although the more I run, the longer I love to run!
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: There is nothing like a peanut butter sandwich and a banana.
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: “I’ve been everywhere,” by Johnny Cash
Favorite or inspirational mantra or saying: “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” — His airness, Michael Jordan.
Where can other runners connect or follow you: My website is www.charlesruns.nyc, I’m also on twitter, @CharlesRunsNYC