« Back to Moments

Leading the Blind

John Courtney and James Hughes completed their 92nd half marathon as running partners at Sunday’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Liverpool Half Marathon. They’ve knockedout 51 marathons in tandem.

The sheer numbers of the feats are amazing – some 2,541.2 miles in marathons and half marathons, not counting all the 10Ks they’ve run – but making the accomplishments all the more amazing is this:

Courtney is 78 years old and Hughes, 44, is blind. They’re father and son.


Courtney and his wife, Sylvia, took Hughes out of a foster-care institution when Hughes was 14 years old. Hughes was born with a rare condition and his eyes never formed. In addition to being blind, he faced numerous other developmental challenges.

“He was really low in the education department,” said Courtney, who lives in Liverpool. “He could do practically nothing.”

To bond with Hughes, Courtney took him for walks.

“At first,” said Courtney, “he could only do 100 yards.”

Within 2½ years they ran their first marathon.

They are not tethered, as most blind runners are to guides. Instead, Hughes jogs two strides behind Courtney, tapping his father’s arm for guidance.

Courtney said the running community has been very supportive of his son.

“Very few runners get the accolades James Hughes gets,” said Courtney.

Six times Hughes has been given the No. 1 racing bib at events.

“He’s held in high esteem,” said Courtney.

The first time they ran a marathon, back in 1990 in London, Courtney said a prayer before the race. Courtney said it went like this: “Lord, James and I stand together with all our training behind us, on the test of the marathon ahead of us.

“We ask for help today. But James has never harmed anybody in his life. James has never had a conversation with anybody in his life. James has never seen anybody in his life.

“Lord, look down and bless the children that are born with a disability, for they are born angels to angels for all their life. Lord, I thank you for letting me run with an angel today. For now, I know my purse is always full when one has oneself to give. Amen.”