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Vision, hearing impaired athlete prepares to run Covenant Health Knoxville Half-Marathon with a guide

Jeremy Sexton was born deaf and lost most of his vision at 20 years old. Those things haven't stopped him from running 5Ks, marathons and everything in between.

CLINTON, Tenn. — To the untrained eye, Jeremy Sexton looks like your average runner.

"Anything from a 5k to a full marathon," he said. "I don't really get to enjoy the scenery much because I can't really see it."

But look a little closer, and you'll notice he has a little more to overcome than most when it comes to hitting the pavement.

"I've been deaf since birth and I was diagnosed with vision loss when I was 20," he said.

Jeremy has both Usher syndrome and retinitis pigmentosa, which are rare genetic disorders that impact vision and hearing.

"I can hear and see, but I don't have any peripheral vision," he said. "I literally cannot see when there's a runner beside me or cones in the road, a curb. I've tripped over a curb and busted my face before. That's when I decided I needed to start using a guide."

When it comes to running, Jeremy can do some practice on his own near his home in Clinton.

"I run out here on the road in front of my house. Back and forth, three-quarters of a mile," he said.

But things are different when Jeremy is running longer distances or racing. Jeremy doesn't wear his hearing aids when he runs, so he relies on his limited vision and a guide to get him to the finish line.

"Well if it's a runner guide we run with a tether. And they just make sure I stay on course and tell me when obstacles are coming up. Bicycle guide, they just lead in front of me," he said.

Jeremy will be using a bicycle guide to run the Covenant Health Knoxville Half Marathon on March 27.

"Are the course monitors cheering me on? Or are they trying to tell me I'm going the wrong way? You just never know. With a guide, I'm able to just run and not worry about any of that," he said.

Jeremy works to help other runners like him find guides. He runs a Facebook group called "Running Blind a Shared Vision."

"Just make it easier to find guides, and other visually impaired athletes to join it and make it easier for them," he said.

If you want to be a guide, Jeremy's requirements are simple.

"Just keep up," he said with a smile. "I'm not fast, but I'm not slow either."

Jeremy shows you don't have to have it all to do what you love. Just passion, persistence and a little help from a friend.

"Don't not do it because you can't see," he said.

The Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon, including the half marathon and relay races, begins and ends in World's Fair Park on Sunday, March 27.

Jeremy will be starting the half marathon race with the wheelchair athletes.

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