'Don't be afraid, just do it,' runner advises

About seven years ago, Ken Duke was attending school and supporting his young family by working a graveyard shift at an insurance company. Money was scarce, so when his boss promised a cash bonus to anyone who could beat him in a five-mile run, Brother Duke decided to try.

He had never run in a road race before, and though he is legally blind, he figured he had nothing to lose."Two or three days before the race, I ran a mile or so to see if I could run," said Brother Duke of the Holladay 4th Ward, Salt Lake Holladay South Stake. At the time, he could still see images well enough to run alone. He added: "I could run pretty good. The day of the race, I beat him."

It seems he has been running ever since. On July 24, the 34-year-old runner finished the 1996 Deseret News/Granite Furniture Marathon in 3:52:56. Pretty good for someone who used to run into construction barricades as his eyesight worsened.

Brother Duke's eye problems began at birth with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that begins with night blindness and eventually leads to full blindness. He made it through high school with heavy prescription glasses and even had a driver license. But his driving days ended when, at age 19, he wrecked his restored 1968 Mustang.

Several years later, after he had beaten his boss in the short race, he began training regularly with a group of people from his ward. They didn't know about his increasing blindness until one particular 10-mile workout. "I hit a construction barricade,"' he related, describing the barriers with flashing lights on top. "I said I was tired and daydreaming," he recalled. "About 100 yards later, I hit another one. I brushed myself off. I hit a third barricade and split my knee open."

At that point, his friends were concerned, and Brother Duke told them of the problem with his eyes. "Ever since, they've watched out for me. I couldn't ask for anything better from a bunch of runners," he told the Church News.

He has run the Deseret News marathon before, but for the first time this year represented people with disabilities in a new division for runners with disabilities. The new division also includes awards for overall male and female winners in both the marathon and the Deseret News/Granite Furniture 10K, which is run at the same time as the marathon.

In encouraging others with disabilities to run the marathon or 10K in upcoming years, Brother Duke, who runs with escorts, said: "Don't be afraid. Just do it. Let others help you. It's service."

Winners in the marathon were Alvario Palacious, Salt Lake City, with a time of 2:26:39 in the men's overall division and Holly Critser, Lehi, 3:02:18, the women's overall. Hideo Sasaki, Ephraim, Utah, won the marathon wheelchair division in 2:19:40.

In the 10K division for runners with disabilities, George Johnson, who has Batten disease and is from New Port, Wash., finished in 1:01:25; while Ed Eyestone, Layton, Utah, won the overall men's title in 28:32; and Nicole Woodward, Lake Oswego, Ore., in the overall women's division in 32:52.

Winning the 10K wheelchair title was Brandon Harris, Ogden, Utah, in 20:21; and Candace Cable, Truckee, Calif., in 20:02.

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed