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Jeffrey Norris: Running in Search of Myself

July 20, 2013

A blind athlete from a broken family suffering from loss of vision and drug addiction—Jeffrey Norris is no stranger to misfortune. And yet, he makes the best of what he has through running.

A blind athlete from a broken family suffering from loss of vision and drug addiction—Jeffrey Norris is no stranger to misfortune. And yet, he makes the best of what he has through running.

By Jeffrey Norris

I was born a third son of an American father and a German mother in Meridian, Miss., on Dec. 1, 1959. In 1962, my family moved to Texas City, Texas. Two years later, my parents divorced; my mother returned with me and my two brothers to her hometown in Nuremberg, Germany. As a result of the divorce, I lost the bonds with family and by the age of 16, I was mostly away from home, on the streets and in trouble.

In 1982, I left Germany. I hung out with my girlfriend in Amsterdam for a couple of months, and later we headed toward Spain, where we stayed for over a year. The birth of our son led us back to Germany. A few months later, we broke up and I went back to Texas City, where my father still lives. I started taking drugs to flee from reality, while in search of something— but I didn’t really know what that was.

In Germany, my drug abuse increased. One night, after being wired for three days, I got into trouble—I was beat up, suffered seven fractures, lost two teeth, and suffered a torn retina with total detachment. After the first operation I still had about 10 percent of my sight left, which wasn’t much; but it was still enough to get around without a white stick. I would lose the rest of my sight—it was just a question of time.Jeff 2

Between 1988 and 1992, I had quit drugs, learned to read and write in Braille and achieved my state diploma and started working as a masseur. I went to work in a nature resort. It was suggested I join a group to hike through resort to learn more about where I was about to start working; but the official guide refused to take me with the group, saying it was too dangerous for a blind person and he couldn’t take the responsibility. That was a punch in the stomach for me. Luckily, there was a guy in the resort clinic who came up to me and said he’d overheard our conversation, and offered to take me with him on his daily tour of the resort. “Be in the reception hall at 5:30 a.m., put on some comfortable shoes and leave your cigarettes in your room,” he told me.

The next day was an unforgettable experience for me. My new mentor told me I could leave my stick at the reception desk, I wouldn’t need it. After introducing ourselves, he started talking about his passion for running and asked me to run with him. We ran only about 300 meters before I was gasping for a break. But I ran!

Later that day, I bought my first pair of running shoes. That guy took me on his daily tours, and after a few days I was able to run about one kilometer, then walk for a while and run again. At the end of that week he told me he was running a 10k run in four weeks. 10k was a distance I couldn’t really imagine, but wanted to experience at the same time.

Four weeks later, I ran my first 10k. I will never forget the rush of feelings I experienced. Running helped me gain mental sources and brought me closer to myself.

By 1995 I had completed four marathons, but it was very hard to find running partners or guides to train and run with. After a six-year break due to working in different cities and reoccurring health problems, I started running again in 2002. I moved back to Nuremberg and took basic Internet schooling.

The Internet made it much easier to find running partners, arrange and coordinate training, and stay informed. In 2004 I ran my fifth marathon, and also experienced my first 6-hour run. The following year brought me to triathlon, sprint, and Olympic distance, which made me want to go further and find new dimensions.

In 2006 and 2007 I finished two Ironman races including the Challenge-Roth. After my first Ironman, I switched to running ultras. In 2008 I ran my first 24-hour ultra, and in 2009 my first six-day race in Gothenburg, Sweden and eight-day race in Monaco. These two events were both very special and taught me a lot about myself. At both events, I broke the unofficial world record for blind running over the six-day distance. Prince Albert honored me after the race in Monaco, which really was an unforgettable moment. In that same year, I ran a beach marathon in Surfside, Texas, the Chevron marathon in Houston, a six-hour run in Austria, a 24-hour run in Germany, and Boston and New York marathons.Jeff1

Through these experiences, I learned to cope with being physically challenged, and found a new perspective on life. Running brought me constantly one step closer to myself. It opened up mental barriers that kept me searching for something I could only find within myself.

In 2010 I set a new record for blind runners at a 24-hour run in Brugg, Switzerland, improved my record in Monaco and won the Tandem Championship at the 24-hour MTB Namib Desert Dash, a race through the Namibian desert.

In February 2011, I competed in the Yukon Arctic Ultra. We had planned to run the 100 miles, but my guide had to draw back. I was determined to experience this kind of adventure, so I flew there alone, found somebody to run with me there, and ran the marathon distance.

In 2012, I completed the Braveheart Battle, the toughest extreme run in Germany, and the Challenge-Roth, my second long-distance triathlon. I was awarded with the gold medal from the ETU for the Para6 division, which is for the visually impaired. That was unexpected, especially because I participated with a fractured toe.

This year, I will be participating in the Ironman 70.3 European Championship in Wiesbaden, Germany on Aug.11.

Some people think being blind is tragic, especially if you weren’t born blind. I consider it an alternative way of living. Of course I would never aim to give the impression that being blind is great fun and that not seeing doesn’t matter to me. It does matter, but I can’t change it. So I found out for myself, it’s better to make the best of what I have, what I can do, and what I can make possible, instead of worrying about what I don’t have.

With God’s will, life can still provide us much to enjoy.


155.981 km (96.922 miles)
Brugg, Switzerland, September 2010

234.000 km (145.400 miles) Monaco, November 2010

394.000 km (244.820 miles) Monaco, November 2010

Gold medal Para6


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