Visually Impaired runner Jennifer Herring just completed her 19th Boston Marathon and shares some life lessons on the Power Hour.

https://www.unitedinstride.com/

https://www.usaba.org/endurance/

https://www.mabvi.org/get-involved/team-with-a-vision/

https://campmarcella.org/

Date: Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Transcription:

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Jennifer Herring: Because I had the visual impairment nobody ever set real expectations so I’ve always had my own.

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Hi! I am Bethany Fishbein – The CEO of The Power Practice and Host of the Power Hour Optometry Podcast. And this conversation today is really one that is extraordinarily special and personal for me. I am interviewing Jennifer Herring who is a visually impaired marathoner and all around is an amazing person we’ll get to her for a second, but the reason that it’s so special for me is that when I was growing up when I was in college, I randomly got a summer job working at a camp for blind and visually impaired children. It’s called Camp Marcella and Rockaway, New Jersey. And it’s my experience at that camp that made me realize that I wanted to go into the eye care field and really change the direction of my personal and professional life forever. And Jennifer, or as she was known then by her camp nickname, Pickles, was one of the campers at Camp Marcella. So she and I have known each other for what is it, Jen? Probably 35 years. 

 

Jennifer Herring: Yes. 

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And so when I saw you online, posting about your latest running accomplishments, fundraising accomplishments, I knew I wanted to talk and thank you so so so so so much for doing this with me. It’s bringing me all kinds of warm fuzzies already, we haven’t even started yet. 

 

Jennifer Herring: Thank you for having me on this wonderful podcast!

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: My pleasure, last night, I was like going through the camp pictures to try and find a picture of the two of us. Did you actually end up working at the camp for a year or two? 

 

Jennifer Herring: Yes, the first time I was asked to work in the kitchen and then for a couple of weeks when one of the other workers was unable to finish up the year, and then I worked a whole summer in the kitchen and then I worked as a counselor for a full summer. 

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: That’s the pictures that I found were from staff training, and it was the two of us out on the blacktop where the basketball nets were and we were learning how to use fire extinguishers. So it might have been the year that you were in the kitchen.  But that was the picture I found that had the two of us in it. I’ll email it to you.

 

Jennifer Herring: Oh, that’s great. 

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Anyway, most of the listeners for my podcast are either optometrist eye doctors, optometry students, and people in the eye care industry. So if you don’t mind, would you share a little bit about your eyes, about your diagnosis, and what your vision is like?

 

Jennifer Herring: Yes, sure. I was born in the mid-70s. So technology has come a long way since then, so early on the eye doctor would do some even right-ups so what they saw on your eyes. I went to an eye and ear in Massachusetts, for them to help diagnose what was going on in my eyes because there is a family history of eye issues, and my family so they knew that there was something wrong. I’d look close, and I also been like near the television and things like that. So I went there. And early on they said I had a form of juvenile macular degeneration so that went on for years I struggled in school and they did give me glasses, but the glasses kind of made everything to focus but I still couldn’t see the blackboard or had issues with seeing far and also I looked very close and so many years went on and then eventually they went to the eye doctor and they looked in and said your macular eyes are fine. It’s your optic nerve. So then it’s white. So they finally diagnosed it as optic nerve atrophy and cone dystrophy and also nearsightedness. So currently that’s what I go by. It’s also been an issue because my eyes outside look very normal. There isn’t really an indication that I do have an eye problem. So going through school that was kind of hard for me because teachers would put your glasses on and they didn’t understand, even though I was a member of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired and they tried to help explain to teachers what was going on, but they really weren’t aware of having these issues. There weren’t many children also who had these kinds of issues in their classes. That was also Camp Marcella came in because when I was eight years old, I went there so I would see other children who had eye issues that we helped each other by can see better than you know, it’s there was a totally blind child then we would leave them around and so it was like a beautiful thing to be part of. We did lots of activities. No one ever set limits for us. We did all the activities and you know I met Bethany and all the wonderful people up there. It was happening every summer because she would just be with other kids and wonderful, caring people who wanted to help and so.

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: it’s funny when you said that it makes me realize we work with a lot of visually impaired people in the practice. And sometimes we’re talking to parents of kids with low vision or people with low vision and one of the things that I’ve always talked about, is that a vision problem is not like a mobility issue where somebody has a limp or uses a wheelchair or has always an outward sign of having a disability. And so we talk a lot about people, especially kids, but older people too. Who are losing vision later in life that they’re struggling and there’s no way for people around them in the grocery store or server at a restaurant or anything to know that they’re having trouble which makes vision difficulties a little bit more complex? Nobody’s offering to help because they don’t know that there’s a problem. And I’m realizing as you’re saying it that that’s probably a lesson that I learned from you and your friends talking about it because as you describe it, I’m aware now that that’s almost always how I say it. So that’s something I picked up from you. 

 

Jennifer Herring: Yeah, it’s a hidden handicap. It’s like I’ve gone through kind of life, You have this burden but I also don’t see it as something positive because I met so many people with compassion other amazing people who are just keep going you know, a lot of my friends I met at Camp Marcella everyone’s still going and so you can still lead a good life. Even if you have a hidden handicap like this.

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: For sure. So tell me we kind of lost touch for a while because I knew when you were a kid at camp and then like most of us at camp we lost touch and it was really when Facebook started to gain popularity that we got back in touch. So talk about what you did after you finished high school. Did you go on in your education? I know you’re working now. What do you do? 

 

Jennifer Herring: Yes. Well, I’m currently a software engineer. I’ve been working in the computer field now for over 20-25 years. Now. And way back in high school to like told me there wasn’t as much technology and so they were kind of leery about me going to college. I only had a monocular some of the early things. I also had glasses that had a monocular on them, but they didn’t work as well. Like I said they would make it clear but I still couldn’t see everything far away. They weren’t really pushing going to college, but I thought I could I did well through school. So I went to the University of Delaware and I majored in computer science. I got a BS in computer science and I was on the Dean’s List and I did well I think I did better than in high school even because I don’t know if that’s also a part of our skillset. But I’ve always been very structured. I felt like it was always my job in school even though I had to concentrate I had to work harder because I couldn’t see so I always had to ask for extra help a little bit. So I’ve always been pretty structured. So I went to college and so I did well doing that, and I also ran intramural track and five K’s. So I did that. And then I got my first job. I got some help with the New Jersey Commissioner for the Blind and Visually Impaired, offered assistance to help find my first job, and then from there I did well and never had a bad review at any of my jobs but I moved back closer to home a couple of times just to be with my family. And so I’ve been doing that now I worked at Lockheed Martin for a little while, which was very interesting. And now I work for a company that handles the Medicare Medicaid claims for New Jersey. So I do a lot of programming for those systems.

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And are using any technology or talk about what you’re using to make the computer and stuff like that accessible for you. 

 

Jennifer Herring: I do the looking close into the screen. I’ve tried some of the other technology they have with the closed-circuit TV and things like that. But now then I’m working at home so when I worked in the office, I would have a lot of people wondering, Why is my face and my screen? and I mean, I’ve been doing it for 25 years. I’m just used to that. It’s just my personal preference, but I know others use the talking technology that you can use in me I have my iPhone and I can look close, and I made the font bigger. So yeah, a lot of the bigger font. I do that on a lot of the applications, it’s on my home laptop. So, fortunately, I looked low so you know they always told you not to do I mean I’ve been doing it for 25-30 years almost. But that’s just my personal preference. 

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And that’s another piece of education that we’re giving to parents, especially of kids with low vision telling the parents telling the teachers that they were raised saying don’t put your head up in your phone. Don’t get that close to the TV. Don’t get that close to the book. And for somebody who needs that working distance to be able to see it. It is absolutely appropriate and healthy and necessary for them to do that. So we provide that as well. 

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: So you mentioned that you ran in college and really I want to talk about your running but I remember when you were younger, there was awards that we used to give out at the campfire, right so they ended the session we always had a closing campfire and then there were different awards for the kids and you were always kind of almost guaranteed recipients of the Super Girl award for your extraordinary athleticism.

 

Jennifer Herring: Yeah

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: I don’t think any other girls at Camp stood a chance to win that when you were there in that session. So when did you figure out that you had some ability in specifically running?

 

Jennifer Herring: Yeah, it’s an innate thing. I think nobody introduced it to me from a young age even like in gym class since you didn’t really have to see well for the gym teacher would say okay, we have to run around the field or inside the gym. I did the Presidential physical fitness test. I love to do all that jumping and running. And so it started just innately, I am blessed that was born with a passion that I love to be active, you know, and I tried to let other people know how to just whatever you can do just walk whatever. Find yourself something that can help you be a good even new track and cross country in high school and the coach helped me because one of the teachers wasn’t nice to me one time with the understanding that I couldn’t see the board. So my coach talked to him because he didn’t want to have his runners upset. So he talked to one of the teachers to explain. I just always loved running and luckily too I wasn’t a superstar. I got my varsity letters all four years and I was captain senior year for track and cross country but luckily I was good enough but not superstar so I didn’t burn out I didn’t get injured. I took care of my body properly. So I mean, what do you got to keep going now? 20-30 years later, 35 years later, so I started to helping people.

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein:  Right? Yes, you’ve been running ever since. And not only are you a runner, but you’re also a marathon runner, and not only are you a marathon runner you’re really fast. how many marathons have you done at this point?

 

Jennifer Herring: 39 marathons 

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: 39 And what spurred this podcast am I reached out to you is you just posted on Facebook that you got back from your 19th Boston Marathon?

 

Jennifer Herring: Yes. 

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Amazing. I did one once. And afterward, I said one and done. And I realized about maybe 20 minutes into the first one that this is something that I was never going to experience again. So 39 is extraordinary. How old were you when you did your first one? Do you remember?

 

Jennifer Herring: Yeah, I was 28 and I did New York. That’s one of the most special ones to do. It’s like you’re a rock star the whole time. There are just people cheering and that’s why to people come from all over the world and get along and just people are cheering there is music and you can’t get lost in your strong woman pretty buddy and I always make friends you know you talk to people and everyone has different reasons that they’re doing the run. So that’s always special and charities if there are people raising money, it’s a really special thing, I always said I do marathons and then I started in that first marathon I qualified for Boston and so that’s how I got involved with starting to run the Boston Marathon.

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: My first and only marathon I finished in six hours and 10 minutes. How did you do in yours?

 

Jennifer Herring: Ah, that one I was, I did 3:35 for the first year, And I know of course over the years now I’m slowed down but it depends on your training and everything. so sometimes you need to get some more training in but my best was 3:22 there so I run then in New York and then 3:26 in Boston, it’s my elder best one.

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Do you run them to be fast? Like, are you going for time or you’re going for the experience?

 

Jennifer Herring: Yeah, it’s always been an experience for me because I was aware of the Boston Marathon and then the qualifying standard and I need to know that I would get that the first time I really wanted to I had read books about it. All the legends and running and eventually, I met Kathrine Switzer, you know, reading all the history of the Boston Marathon and everything. I really wanted to run it, but I didn’t know so yeah, I guess it’s the joy of running. They all talked about the joy of running and I think I have that. Moreover, then even in high school, too, I guess for life because I had a visual impairment nobody ever set real expectations. So I’ve always had my own, at least gone on my own pace through life now, and I hope everyone can do that because that way people set too high expectations or something. And so you should just go along and do it. You can do your six hours. I mean, that’s wonderful to some people never do it. Yeah, those three can be happy with that. It’s just the satisfaction of completing it. And the experience you have.

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And you mentioned that people out there fundraising and over your running career, you’ve done fundraising or done marathons for I think, some different causes, right?

 

Jennifer Herring: I’ve done well, one part there’s a lot of unfortunately cancer in my family and then other loved ones and friends that have been touched by cancer. So I’ve done a story with my father in 2007. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor in November of 2007. And so I told them that I was going to run the Boston Marathon for him in 2008. So they tried to do things for him, but it wasn’t working. But he held on till the day I came home and I handed him the Boston Marathon medal that you get when you finish the marathon. And that evening, he passed away. It was just a wonderful thing he did for me because he hung on because I had told him I did that marathon for him. So I do a lot of charities that are related to brain tumor research. I’ve done several in New York, and run a lot of races in Central Park. And then there’s a American Cancer Research. I’m doing a race in Philly. So I’ve done some fundraising for them in Philly, and then there’s Fred’s team. I’ve done the New York Marathon and then of course for the visual impairment I’ve done the Boston Marathon pretty much I guess, I think about 10 to 15 of the Boston Marathon races I’ve raised money for Team with a Vision which raises money for the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually impaired and they support and rehabilitation services for people in society that have visual impairments there. So that’s how I feel it’s the overall good thing for me and for everyone, you know, for helping people.

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Absolutely! So when you race with Team with a Vision, what’s involved with that? Do you fundraise? Are you running with other visually impaired people? What does that mean, to be part of that?

 

Jennifer Herring: Yes, it’s a group of blind and visually impaired runners and guides and they start fundraising about six months out they have you set up a web page where you can go to fundraise, which says the Boston Marathon was twice in six months. Now, I did it back in October. So that’s the last one I set up. And then for this one, that was just in April, I donate it and then I informed other people to just go to the main web page that GivenGain, they set up many fundraisers. So Team with Ovation was one of those on there and told them when race week comes along about the Friday before the Monday Boston Marathon, you go up there, they have different activities to get together. So you can meet other people that are blind or visually impaired and then the guide under are solely charity runners to that raise money also, and then they have dinner then you get your bed that you wear for the race. And that’s a wonderful thing too. So when I run in the marathon, people are saying “Go Team with a Vision!” so it’s publicized more. So people wonder what is that now look it up and hopefully they can either join the team to run and raise money or just donate or cheer even is wonderful too. That helps that helped me a lot too. 

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Just hearing people cheering for you on the course.

 

Jennifer Herring: Yes

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Yes, that’s awesome! And you mentioned people go up with their guides, but you don’t usually run with the guide, do you?

 

Jennifer Herring:  I have a couple of years? You know, Unfortunately, Tom was a racist. There have been some things that have been so you know, in some cases I always go back and forth, whether it’s better if something goes wrong, it’s better to have someone with me because you know like when I’m on the course I feel kind of sheltered because I know where I’m going. There are people all along, you can get help but if there’s something where they say the race is over or something and you’re still out there or something, I would need help to get back or just to make sure nothing goes wrong, but I run with guides and they help because I do have to slow down go into like the water stops and things and they do help to say okay, you’re making a left turn coming up. So instead I go along on my own and just kind of rely on the other runners. Sometimes, it’s better and I’ll always welcome someone to run with me. I’ve always been Ms.Independence. It’s hard for me to always have somebody helping, but they’re wonderful too.

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And they have to find one who’s fast enough for you like I would offer but.

 

Jennifer Herring: Yeah, well some friends

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: or you could stroll along with me.

 

Jennifer Herring: Well, sometimes they have to lie so you can only go up to 11 miles with the person they have this switch off for races and there are all levels to of ability. So there are faster runners, and there’s a guy who runs like 235 marathons and blind, and then there are slower runners that it seems like there’s a whole gamut. So if someone does want to help a guy and there are other associations that they set up, there’s United in Stride, it’s called in America. It’s spread out in different states where you can sign up on the website United in Stride and find if you want to assist a visually impaired runner, and then now I see there’s a team tethered together. And that’s another one that I see is set up. So if there are runners that want to assist, and they have that just even to take a vision curbar out for a run race, which is you know.

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Cool! I will put those websites in the notes when we put the podcast out. So if somebody’s interested in doing that, maybe they can get matched up with somebody in their area. Were you in Boston at the marathon, the year of the bombing? Was it twenty 2013 Oh my god. 

 

Jennifer Herring: Yes. Well, I have the associated story with being going to visually impaired because I finished about 15 minutes before the bombs went off. And I was around the corner about 600 feet around the corner. I guess from there, we had a family meeting area where the team was the Vision Group would meet after the race, and there happened to be a seeing-eye dog there waiting for his person to come. And so of course, since he wasn’t working, I wasn’t petting, but I just kind of kneeled down, Just this was my 10th Boston Marathon. So, of course, I love dogs and I was talking to the dog and I felt, I finished my 10th Boston Marathon and it was a beautiful day, that day too and finally because usually, it’s very cold and windy in that area. So yeah, I just usually want to get going and then all of a sudden I heard a noise and an echo sound like a backfire and I was like, okay? and the dogs heard it too. And then it was a little bit of time and then it happened again. And the dog started shaking. So we’re only what is that noise and Josh Warren who had introduced me to Team with a Vision. He had asked me to join the team couple of years back, He said, I don’t know that doesn’t sound good. So my mom was in the hotel in the Prudential Center there I always told her to stay put because I didn’t want her ever wandering around. She called and she said there was a bomb something was going on at the finish line and to get back to the room. So I got up from there and you know me while the dog was shaking, and so he knew the dog knew something was bad. And I had to get back to the hotel. And luckily, I got back then before they started shutting the doors you couldn’t go in, it’s just horrible there. And then actually, a beautiful thing that just happened is that this was a second Boston Marathon they had the Power Elite Athletes Division and one of the women participating in it. Adrianne Haslet – She was affected by the Boston Marathon bombing. She was a ballroom dancer, she lost her leg and she decided she wanted to run the Boston Marathon again after she had done it in 678 hours I think a couple of years ago. So she participated in this past last week, the Boston Marathon and she was just ready. I mean, it was beautiful to see she was so happy because she trained with Shalane Flanagan. She had won the New York Marathon. She’s a professional runner, and she had her as her support. I saw her at the starting area. I could feel the smile, I couldn’t see but I thought we were on the running scene and what was going on and just to know how happy she was and she finished in I think a little over five hours. So it was like a three-hour improvement. And she posted and has been so happy since joy. Yeah, I was even though you’re part of a horrible thing, but she’s turned it into something beautiful in her life. So that was very nice to see firsthand. I always miss out on things. So it was kind of like right there. I was fortunate to just be in the presence of that.

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: I really I think that message or theme has come through and a bunch of different stories that you’ve shared today about your experience of taking something that maybe people would consider a negative and finding the positive side or finding the beautiful things in a situation. So that’s a very positive message for today. You know, I think for anybody who’s listening if they are inspired to do something positive, I will share the links to Tethered Together to United in Stride for somebody who’s looking to give us their time for somebody who may be looking for a wonderful place to give their money. I’ll share links for the Team with a Vision and also for Camp Marcella, which although it’s a little bit different now is still helping blind and visually impaired kids in New Jersey and is still a special place to me, and Jen I know for you too. And I’m really grateful that your running career and my vision career have put us back in touch and given us the opportunity to reconnect all these years later. Thank you so so so so so so much for talking. It was great to have this conversation with you.

 

Jennifer Herring: Thank you Bethany and you are wonderful too, I’m honored to talk with you.

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: I am the one who is honored here and for everybody out there, Thank you so much for listening.

 

 

Read the Transcription

 

Jennifer Herring: Because I had the visual impairment nobody ever set real expectations so I’ve always had my own.

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Hi! I am Bethany Fishbein – The CEO of The Power Practice and Host of the Power Hour Optometry Podcast. And this conversation today is really one that is extraordinarily special and personal for me. I am interviewing Jennifer Herring who is a visually impaired marathoner and all around is an amazing person we’ll get to her for a second, but the reason that it’s so special for me is that when I was growing up when I was in college, I randomly got a summer job working at a camp for blind and visually impaired children. It’s called Camp Marcella and Rockaway, New Jersey. And it’s my experience at that camp that made me realize that I wanted to go into the eye care field and really change the direction of my personal and professional life forever. And Jennifer, or as she was known then by her camp nickname, Pickles, was one of the campers at Camp Marcella. So she and I have known each other for what is it, Jen? Probably 35 years. 

 

Jennifer Herring: Yes. 

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And so when I saw you online, posting about your latest running accomplishments, fundraising accomplishments, I knew I wanted to talk and thank you so so so so so much for doing this with me. It’s bringing me all kinds of warm fuzzies already, we haven’t even started yet. 

 

Jennifer Herring: Thank you for having me on this wonderful podcast!

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: My pleasure, last night, I was like going through the camp pictures to try and find a picture of the two of us. Did you actually end up working at the camp for a year or two? 

 

Jennifer Herring: Yes, the first time I was asked to work in the kitchen and then for a couple of weeks when one of the other workers was unable to finish up the year, and then I worked a whole summer in the kitchen and then I worked as a counselor for a full summer. 

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: That’s the pictures that I found were from staff training, and it was the two of us out on the blacktop where the basketball nets were and we were learning how to use fire extinguishers. So it might have been the year that you were in the kitchen.  But that was the picture I found that had the two of us in it. I’ll email it to you.

 

Jennifer Herring: Oh, that’s great. 

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Anyway, most of the listeners for my podcast are either optometrist eye doctors, optometry students, and people in the eye care industry. So if you don’t mind, would you share a little bit about your eyes, about your diagnosis, and what your vision is like?

 

Jennifer Herring: Yes, sure. I was born in the mid-70s. So technology has come a long way since then, so early on the eye doctor would do some even right-ups so what they saw on your eyes. I went to an eye and ear in Massachusetts, for them to help diagnose what was going on in my eyes because there is a family history of eye issues, and my family so they knew that there was something wrong. I’d look close, and I also been like near the television and things like that. So I went there. And early on they said I had a form of juvenile macular degeneration so that went on for years I struggled in school and they did give me glasses, but the glasses kind of made everything to focus but I still couldn’t see the blackboard or had issues with seeing far and also I looked very close and so many years went on and then eventually they went to the eye doctor and they looked in and said your macular eyes are fine. It’s your optic nerve. So then it’s white. So they finally diagnosed it as optic nerve atrophy and cone dystrophy and also nearsightedness. So currently that’s what I go by. It’s also been an issue because my eyes outside look very normal. There isn’t really an indication that I do have an eye problem. So going through school that was kind of hard for me because teachers would put your glasses on and they didn’t understand, even though I was a member of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired and they tried to help explain to teachers what was going on, but they really weren’t aware of having these issues. There weren’t many children also who had these kinds of issues in their classes. That was also Camp Marcella came in because when I was eight years old, I went there so I would see other children who had eye issues that we helped each other by can see better than you know, it’s there was a totally blind child then we would leave them around and so it was like a beautiful thing to be part of. We did lots of activities. No one ever set limits for us. We did all the activities and you know I met Bethany and all the wonderful people up there. It was happening every summer because she would just be with other kids and wonderful, caring people who wanted to help and so.

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: it’s funny when you said that it makes me realize we work with a lot of visually impaired people in the practice. And sometimes we’re talking to parents of kids with low vision or people with low vision and one of the things that I’ve always talked about, is that a vision problem is not like a mobility issue where somebody has a limp or uses a wheelchair or has always an outward sign of having a disability. And so we talk a lot about people, especially kids, but older people too. Who are losing vision later in life that they’re struggling and there’s no way for people around them in the grocery store or server at a restaurant or anything to know that they’re having trouble which makes vision difficulties a little bit more complex? Nobody’s offering to help because they don’t know that there’s a problem. And I’m realizing as you’re saying it that that’s probably a lesson that I learned from you and your friends talking about it because as you describe it, I’m aware now that that’s almost always how I say it. So that’s something I picked up from you. 

 

Jennifer Herring: Yeah, it’s a hidden handicap. It’s like I’ve gone through kind of life, You have this burden but I also don’t see it as something positive because I met so many people with compassion other amazing people who are just keep going you know, a lot of my friends I met at Camp Marcella everyone’s still going and so you can still lead a good life. Even if you have a hidden handicap like this.

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: For sure. So tell me we kind of lost touch for a while because I knew when you were a kid at camp and then like most of us at camp we lost touch and it was really when Facebook started to gain popularity that we got back in touch. So talk about what you did after you finished high school. Did you go on in your education? I know you’re working now. What do you do? 

 

Jennifer Herring: Yes. Well, I’m currently a software engineer. I’ve been working in the computer field now for over 20-25 years. Now. And way back in high school to like told me there wasn’t as much technology and so they were kind of leery about me going to college. I only had a monocular some of the early things. I also had glasses that had a monocular on them, but they didn’t work as well. Like I said they would make it clear but I still couldn’t see everything far away. They weren’t really pushing going to college, but I thought I could I did well through school. So I went to the University of Delaware and I majored in computer science. I got a BS in computer science and I was on the Dean’s List and I did well I think I did better than in high school even because I don’t know if that’s also a part of our skillset. But I’ve always been very structured. I felt like it was always my job in school even though I had to concentrate I had to work harder because I couldn’t see so I always had to ask for extra help a little bit. So I’ve always been pretty structured. So I went to college and so I did well doing that, and I also ran intramural track and five K’s. So I did that. And then I got my first job. I got some help with the New Jersey Commissioner for the Blind and Visually Impaired, offered assistance to help find my first job, and then from there I did well and never had a bad review at any of my jobs but I moved back closer to home a couple of times just to be with my family. And so I’ve been doing that now I worked at Lockheed Martin for a little while, which was very interesting. And now I work for a company that handles the Medicare Medicaid claims for New Jersey. So I do a lot of programming for those systems.

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And are using any technology or talk about what you’re using to make the computer and stuff like that accessible for you. 

 

Jennifer Herring: I do the looking close into the screen. I’ve tried some of the other technology they have with the closed-circuit TV and things like that. But now then I’m working at home so when I worked in the office, I would have a lot of people wondering, Why is my face and my screen? and I mean, I’ve been doing it for 25 years. I’m just used to that. It’s just my personal preference, but I know others use the talking technology that you can use in me I have my iPhone and I can look close, and I made the font bigger. So yeah, a lot of the bigger font. I do that on a lot of the applications, it’s on my home laptop. So, fortunately, I looked low so you know they always told you not to do I mean I’ve been doing it for 25-30 years almost. But that’s just my personal preference. 

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And that’s another piece of education that we’re giving to parents, especially of kids with low vision telling the parents telling the teachers that they were raised saying don’t put your head up in your phone. Don’t get that close to the TV. Don’t get that close to the book. And for somebody who needs that working distance to be able to see it. It is absolutely appropriate and healthy and necessary for them to do that. So we provide that as well. 

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: So you mentioned that you ran in college and really I want to talk about your running but I remember when you were younger, there was awards that we used to give out at the campfire, right so they ended the session we always had a closing campfire and then there were different awards for the kids and you were always kind of almost guaranteed recipients of the Super Girl award for your extraordinary athleticism.

 

Jennifer Herring: Yeah

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: I don’t think any other girls at Camp stood a chance to win that when you were there in that session. So when did you figure out that you had some ability in specifically running?

 

Jennifer Herring: Yeah, it’s an innate thing. I think nobody introduced it to me from a young age even like in gym class since you didn’t really have to see well for the gym teacher would say okay, we have to run around the field or inside the gym. I did the Presidential physical fitness test. I love to do all that jumping and running. And so it started just innately, I am blessed that was born with a passion that I love to be active, you know, and I tried to let other people know how to just whatever you can do just walk whatever. Find yourself something that can help you be a good even new track and cross country in high school and the coach helped me because one of the teachers wasn’t nice to me one time with the understanding that I couldn’t see the board. So my coach talked to him because he didn’t want to have his runners upset. So he talked to one of the teachers to explain. I just always loved running and luckily too I wasn’t a superstar. I got my varsity letters all four years and I was captain senior year for track and cross country but luckily I was good enough but not superstar so I didn’t burn out I didn’t get injured. I took care of my body properly. So I mean, what do you got to keep going now? 20-30 years later, 35 years later, so I started to helping people.

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein:  Right? Yes, you’ve been running ever since. And not only are you a runner, but you’re also a marathon runner, and not only are you a marathon runner you’re really fast. how many marathons have you done at this point?

 

Jennifer Herring: 39 marathons 

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: 39 And what spurred this podcast am I reached out to you is you just posted on Facebook that you got back from your 19th Boston Marathon?

 

Jennifer Herring: Yes. 

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Amazing. I did one once. And afterward, I said one and done. And I realized about maybe 20 minutes into the first one that this is something that I was never going to experience again. So 39 is extraordinary. How old were you when you did your first one? Do you remember?

 

Jennifer Herring: Yeah, I was 28 and I did New York. That’s one of the most special ones to do. It’s like you’re a rock star the whole time. There are just people cheering and that’s why to people come from all over the world and get along and just people are cheering there is music and you can’t get lost in your strong woman pretty buddy and I always make friends you know you talk to people and everyone has different reasons that they’re doing the run. So that’s always special and charities if there are people raising money, it’s a really special thing, I always said I do marathons and then I started in that first marathon I qualified for Boston and so that’s how I got involved with starting to run the Boston Marathon.

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: My first and only marathon I finished in six hours and 10 minutes. How did you do in yours?

 

Jennifer Herring: Ah, that one I was, I did 3:35 for the first year, And I know of course over the years now I’m slowed down but it depends on your training and everything. so sometimes you need to get some more training in but my best was 3:22 there so I run then in New York and then 3:26 in Boston, it’s my elder best one.

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Do you run them to be fast? Like, are you going for time or you’re going for the experience?

 

Jennifer Herring: Yeah, it’s always been an experience for me because I was aware of the Boston Marathon and then the qualifying standard and I need to know that I would get that the first time I really wanted to I had read books about it. All the legends and running and eventually, I met Kathrine Switzer, you know, reading all the history of the Boston Marathon and everything. I really wanted to run it, but I didn’t know so yeah, I guess it’s the joy of running. They all talked about the joy of running and I think I have that. Moreover, then even in high school, too, I guess for life because I had a visual impairment nobody ever set real expectations. So I’ve always had my own, at least gone on my own pace through life now, and I hope everyone can do that because that way people set too high expectations or something. And so you should just go along and do it. You can do your six hours. I mean, that’s wonderful to some people never do it. Yeah, those three can be happy with that. It’s just the satisfaction of completing it. And the experience you have.

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And you mentioned that people out there fundraising and over your running career, you’ve done fundraising or done marathons for I think, some different causes, right?

 

Jennifer Herring: I’ve done well, one part there’s a lot of unfortunately cancer in my family and then other loved ones and friends that have been touched by cancer. So I’ve done a story with my father in 2007. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor in November of 2007. And so I told them that I was going to run the Boston Marathon for him in 2008. So they tried to do things for him, but it wasn’t working. But he held on till the day I came home and I handed him the Boston Marathon medal that you get when you finish the marathon. And that evening, he passed away. It was just a wonderful thing he did for me because he hung on because I had told him I did that marathon for him. So I do a lot of charities that are related to brain tumor research. I’ve done several in New York, and run a lot of races in Central Park. And then there’s a American Cancer Research. I’m doing a race in Philly. So I’ve done some fundraising for them in Philly, and then there’s Fred’s team. I’ve done the New York Marathon and then of course for the visual impairment I’ve done the Boston Marathon pretty much I guess, I think about 10 to 15 of the Boston Marathon races I’ve raised money for Team with a Vision which raises money for the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually impaired and they support and rehabilitation services for people in society that have visual impairments there. So that’s how I feel it’s the overall good thing for me and for everyone, you know, for helping people.

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Absolutely! So when you race with Team with a Vision, what’s involved with that? Do you fundraise? Are you running with other visually impaired people? What does that mean, to be part of that?

 

Jennifer Herring: Yes, it’s a group of blind and visually impaired runners and guides and they start fundraising about six months out they have you set up a web page where you can go to fundraise, which says the Boston Marathon was twice in six months. Now, I did it back in October. So that’s the last one I set up. And then for this one, that was just in April, I donate it and then I informed other people to just go to the main web page that GivenGain, they set up many fundraisers. So Team with Ovation was one of those on there and told them when race week comes along about the Friday before the Monday Boston Marathon, you go up there, they have different activities to get together. So you can meet other people that are blind or visually impaired and then the guide under are solely charity runners to that raise money also, and then they have dinner then you get your bed that you wear for the race. And that’s a wonderful thing too. So when I run in the marathon, people are saying “Go Team with a Vision!” so it’s publicized more. So people wonder what is that now look it up and hopefully they can either join the team to run and raise money or just donate or cheer even is wonderful too. That helps that helped me a lot too. 

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Just hearing people cheering for you on the course.

 

Jennifer Herring: Yes

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Yes, that’s awesome! And you mentioned people go up with their guides, but you don’t usually run with the guide, do you?

 

Jennifer Herring:  I have a couple of years? You know, Unfortunately, Tom was a racist. There have been some things that have been so you know, in some cases I always go back and forth, whether it’s better if something goes wrong, it’s better to have someone with me because you know like when I’m on the course I feel kind of sheltered because I know where I’m going. There are people all along, you can get help but if there’s something where they say the race is over or something and you’re still out there or something, I would need help to get back or just to make sure nothing goes wrong, but I run with guides and they help because I do have to slow down go into like the water stops and things and they do help to say okay, you’re making a left turn coming up. So instead I go along on my own and just kind of rely on the other runners. Sometimes, it’s better and I’ll always welcome someone to run with me. I’ve always been Ms.Independence. It’s hard for me to always have somebody helping, but they’re wonderful too.

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And they have to find one who’s fast enough for you like I would offer but.

 

Jennifer Herring: Yeah, well some friends

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: or you could stroll along with me.

 

Jennifer Herring: Well, sometimes they have to lie so you can only go up to 11 miles with the person they have this switch off for races and there are all levels to of ability. So there are faster runners, and there’s a guy who runs like 235 marathons and blind, and then there are slower runners that it seems like there’s a whole gamut. So if someone does want to help a guy and there are other associations that they set up, there’s United in Stride, it’s called in America. It’s spread out in different states where you can sign up on the website United in Stride and find if you want to assist a visually impaired runner, and then now I see there’s a team tethered together. And that’s another one that I see is set up. So if there are runners that want to assist, and they have that just even to take a vision curbar out for a run race, which is you know.

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Cool! I will put those websites in the notes when we put the podcast out. So if somebody’s interested in doing that, maybe they can get matched up with somebody in their area. Were you in Boston at the marathon, the year of the bombing? Was it twenty 2013 Oh my god. 

 

Jennifer Herring: Yes. Well, I have the associated story with being going to visually impaired because I finished about 15 minutes before the bombs went off. And I was around the corner about 600 feet around the corner. I guess from there, we had a family meeting area where the team was the Vision Group would meet after the race, and there happened to be a seeing-eye dog there waiting for his person to come. And so of course, since he wasn’t working, I wasn’t petting, but I just kind of kneeled down, Just this was my 10th Boston Marathon. So, of course, I love dogs and I was talking to the dog and I felt, I finished my 10th Boston Marathon and it was a beautiful day, that day too and finally because usually, it’s very cold and windy in that area. So yeah, I just usually want to get going and then all of a sudden I heard a noise and an echo sound like a backfire and I was like, okay? and the dogs heard it too. And then it was a little bit of time and then it happened again. And the dog started shaking. So we’re only what is that noise and Josh Warren who had introduced me to Team with a Vision. He had asked me to join the team couple of years back, He said, I don’t know that doesn’t sound good. So my mom was in the hotel in the Prudential Center there I always told her to stay put because I didn’t want her ever wandering around. She called and she said there was a bomb something was going on at the finish line and to get back to the room. So I got up from there and you know me while the dog was shaking, and so he knew the dog knew something was bad. And I had to get back to the hotel. And luckily, I got back then before they started shutting the doors you couldn’t go in, it’s just horrible there. And then actually, a beautiful thing that just happened is that this was a second Boston Marathon they had the Power Elite Athletes Division and one of the women participating in it. Adrianne Haslet – She was affected by the Boston Marathon bombing. She was a ballroom dancer, she lost her leg and she decided she wanted to run the Boston Marathon again after she had done it in 678 hours I think a couple of years ago. So she participated in this past last week, the Boston Marathon and she was just ready. I mean, it was beautiful to see she was so happy because she trained with Shalane Flanagan. She had won the New York Marathon. She’s a professional runner, and she had her as her support. I saw her at the starting area. I could feel the smile, I couldn’t see but I thought we were on the running scene and what was going on and just to know how happy she was and she finished in I think a little over five hours. So it was like a three-hour improvement. And she posted and has been so happy since joy. Yeah, I was even though you’re part of a horrible thing, but she’s turned it into something beautiful in her life. So that was very nice to see firsthand. I always miss out on things. So it was kind of like right there. I was fortunate to just be in the presence of that.

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: I really I think that message or theme has come through and a bunch of different stories that you’ve shared today about your experience of taking something that maybe people would consider a negative and finding the positive side or finding the beautiful things in a situation. So that’s a very positive message for today. You know, I think for anybody who’s listening if they are inspired to do something positive, I will share the links to Tethered Together to United in Stride for somebody who’s looking to give us their time for somebody who may be looking for a wonderful place to give their money. I’ll share links for the Team with a Vision and also for Camp Marcella, which although it’s a little bit different now is still helping blind and visually impaired kids in New Jersey and is still a special place to me, and Jen I know for you too. And I’m really grateful that your running career and my vision career have put us back in touch and given us the opportunity to reconnect all these years later. Thank you so so so so so so much for talking. It was great to have this conversation with you.

 

Jennifer Herring: Thank you Bethany and you are wonderful too, I’m honored to talk with you.

 

Dr.Bethany Fishbein: I am the one who is honored here and for everybody out there, Thank you so much for listening.