Latest Information:
What's New?
11:27 am
Tue April 22, 2014

'Wait Wait' Host Peter Sagal Runs Boston Marathon As Guide

Originally published on Mon April 21, 2014 1:52 pm

You know Peter Sagal as host of NPR’s “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” but he’s also a marathon runner. For the second year in a row, he’s running the Boston Marathon with a legally blind athlete, at the invitation of a group called “Team with a Vision.”

This year Sagal is running with Erich Manser. Last year, both athletes crossed the finish line minutes before the bombs went off. They speak to Here & Now’s Robin Young before the start of the marathon.

Interview Highlights

Peter Sagal on making last year’s tragedy secondary to today’s race

“I don’t think it’s that hard because for runners, the Boston Marathon is — as everybody knows — the premier event, the amateurs Olympics, right? … Most years, when most of the world isn’t paying that much attention to the Boston Marathon, the running community – it’s our national holiday. … So for us, last year was this sick anomaly and I think that people wanted to come and run it, not so much to somehow respond to bombing, if you will, but to erase it, to remind everybody by running it this year and next year and next year and to the end of the world that the Boston Marathon bombings have nothing to do with the Boston Marathon. Lets call them something else please.”

Erich Manser on running with Sagal

“As you can tell he’s very charismatic and engaging and very deserving of trust — or so he tells me. He’s a handsome fellow as well. I’ve come to know him very well over the last couple of days. And one thing that I’ve always kind of observed about the blind athlete-guide relationship is that it has a way of fast tracking that comfort level and you basically surrender yourself to them for the duration of this race and so you develop that comfort level and that trust and that communication level and its just a wonderful, wonderful experience.”

Erich Manser on what Sagal will help with during the race

“Frost heaves leave a lot of damage out there. I describe what I see now as basically like looking through a cloudy keyhole. You know, if I’m looking straight ahead I can’t see my feet; I’ve got nothing below or off to the sides. And so the most daunting part of a race for me is very much the beginning where everyone is packed in like sardines, people are jockeying for position and literally from my point of view it’s as though people are appearing out of nowhere, if they’re cutting across that field of vision.”

Peter Sagal on the rewards of being a marathon guide

“Sometimes you just have to get out there and just help somebody face to face. You know, the Massachusetts Association for the Blind — we had a brunch the other day — and it was there for the marathon team, the runners and the guides, but there are also people there who help blind people shop or read to them or care for their pets or do their laundry or whatever the need is. And you know, those people are doing the same thing I’m doing, they’re just getting a little less attention for it. But it’s tremendously important, and I think not just for the people who need the help, but for the people who offer the help. I get to feel good about myself. And let me tell you this, just between you and me Robin. Volunteering? Chicks dig it.”

Guests

Copyright 2014 WBUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wbur.org.

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW. Peter Sagal, host of NPR's WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!, he who regularly mocks the powerful, the famous, the foolish, has another side to him, which is on display in today's Boston Marathon. For the second year in a row, at the invitation of a group called Team with a Vision, he's running the race as a guide to a legally blind athlete.

This year Peter's running with Erich Manser, who at the age of three was diagnosed with a condition called retinitis pigmentosa and who has gradually lost much of his sight. Both Peter and Erich ran the race with others last year, crossing the finish line just before the bombs went off. Like many, they are determined to finish today, only together.

We spoke with them as they waited at the Hopkinton Vision Center this morning, that's a store that's hosted the visually impaired for years. As they waited for the race to start, we started with a question to Peter. Why do this?

PETER SAGAL, BYLINE: I became a classic midlife runner and run a bunch of marathons, 10 in fact at this point last year, and was really sort of wondering why I was bothering. I mean, I'd run thousands of miles, and yet here I still am. And I got a call from a remarkably energetic young gentleman named Josh Warren, who runs Team with a Vision, that's the charity athletic arm for Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

And he said hey, do you want to guide a blind runner in Boston? And I was like yeah, sure. By the way, this is also how I got into public radio. People call me up, and they say you want to do this? I go yeah. So last year I lined up at this very same place with a guy named William Greer, a visually impaired runner from Austin, Texas, and we had a great race. As he said, it was a great race except for the bomb.

And I did find that running a race for someone else had real pleasures to it. You weren't - I wasn't thinking so much about why am I doing this, and this hurts a lot. I was like how's he doing, what does he need?

YOUNG: Well hold up for a second. That line was incredible from your running mate last year, William Greer: It was a great race except for the bombs. As you well know, this year the thinking of a lot of runners is to try to have that attitude, you know, just to make the - what happened last year secondary. How hard is that?

SAGAL: I don't think it's that hard because for runners, the Boston Marathon is, as everybody knows, the premier event, the amateurs Olympics, right.

YOUNG: Someone drove that point home this morning by writing imagine if your pickup softball game was allowed to go on the field with the Red Sox.

SAGAL: Yeah, it's a little bit like that, you know. And so most years, when most of the world isn't paying that much attention to the Boston Marathon, the running community, it's our big, you know, it's our national holiday. We, all of us, can name the towns - Framingham, Natick, Needham, Boston College, Heartbreak Hill - like stations of the cross - downtown.

So for us, last year was this sick anomaly, and I think that people wanted to come and run it not so much to somehow respond to the bombing, if you will, but to erase it, to remind everybody by running it this year and next year and next year and until the end of the world that this, you know, the Boston Marathon bombing had nothing to do with the Boston Marathon. Let's call them something else please.

YOUNG: Yeah, with that in mind, let's talk about this year's race with Erich. Can you - do you mind having your phone over to Erich Manser?

SAGAL: Well, he happens to be right here. Erich, they would like to speak to you.

ERICH MANSER: Hey, good morning.

YOUNG: Hi, how are you? Erich, our first question is: Why are you trusting Peter Sagal to take you along the course?

(LAUGHTER)

MANSER: A very fair question. Actually, I, you know, have become familiar with Peter, and as you can tell he's very charismatic and engaging and very deserving of trust, as I've come to know...

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: (Unintelligible).

MANSER: Or so he tells me. He's a handsome fellow as well. So I've come to know him pretty well over the last couple of days. And, you know, one thing that I've always kind of observed about, you know, the blind athlete-guide relationship is that it has a way of kind of fast-tracking that comfort level, and you basically surrender yourself to them for the duration of this race. And so you develop that comfort level and that trust and that communication level, and it's just a wonderful, wonderful experience.

YOUNG: Well, I know that your sight has been limited for a while. So the world is what you know of it, and yet for those of us who have trepidation running, and we have sight, it's pretty astonishing. So what are some of the things you need him to help you with? I'm thinking potholes here at post-start, our terrible winter in New England.

MANSER: Oh, absolutely. No, frost heaves leave a lot of damage out there. I describe what I see now as basically like looking through a cloudy keyhole. You know, if I'm looking straight ahead, I can't see my feet. I can't - you know, I've got nothing below or off to the sides. And so the most daunting part of a race for me is very much like the beginning, where everyone is packed in like sardines, people are jockeying for position, and literally from my point of view it's as though people are appearing out of nowhere, if they're cutting across that field of vision.

YOUNG: Some of the pairs tether to each other with, you know, literally a leather rope so you don't lose each other in that pack in the beginning.

MANSER: Absolutely, no, that's critical especially at the beginning of the race because, you know, without even knowing, people get between you, and before you know it, you're five people separated. And so having that connection of the tether is key. Plus, you know, self-identifying, I'm wearing a bib that says blind, where, you know, having Peter have the bib that says guide on it, it just raises awareness, and people kind of have a great respect. So that helps a great deal.

My default in previous races has been to avoid the clusters of people, but this is such a special year and such an emotional experience that I'm just going to soak it all in. It's not something to be missed, and it's such a special thing to be a part of this year.

YOUNG: Well Erich, we wish you all the best. Can you hand us back to Peter, just to sign off?

MANSER: Absolutely. My pleasure, thank you so much.

YOUNG: And by the way, what's your number?

MANSER: Uh, 23258.

YOUNG: OK, we'll follow you, 23258. And just hand over to Peter for a second.

MANSER: Absolutely, thanks so much.

YOUNG: Thank you.

SAGAL: Hello.

YOUNG: So Peter, you've got quite a responsibility today.

SAGAL: Yes, I do. Isn't it interesting?

YOUNG: Yeah, and, you know, I'm thinking you're the guy who, as we said at the outset, we think of sarcasm, we think of...

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Bitterness.

YOUNG: Bitterness, mocking.

SAGAL: Sadness lurking behind a mask of humor. I know, yeah.

YOUNG: This is something else.

SAGAL: Yes, it is. It is, you know, and sometimes you just have to get out there and just help somebody face to face. You know, the Massachusetts Association for the Blind, we had a brunch the other day, and it was there for the marathon team, the runners and the guides, but there are also people there who help blind people shop or read to them or care for their pets or do their laundry or whatever the need is.

And you know, those people are doing the same thing I'm doing, they're just getting a little less attention for it. But it's tremendously important and I think not just for the people who need the help, but for the people who offer the help. I get to feel good about myself. And let me tell you this, just between you and me Robin. Volunteering? Chicks dig it.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Just saying. I don't know if that matters to you, but, you know, I'm just saying.

(LAUGHTER)

YOUNG: Well, it obviously does to you.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Clearly. (Unintelligible) shallowness again. But that's nothing new.

YOUNG: Peter, what's your number?

SAGAL: I am looking, and I have to read it upside-down, it is 18624.

YOUNG: 18624, running and guiding 23258.

SAGAL: Yes, and if you check those numbers, and you find that they are very far apart, something has gone horribly wrong.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: And I may have made one too many tasteless blind joke, and Erich is like that's it.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I was actually, I was saying I will make - my plan is to either enrage Erich so that he is trying to chase me or just annoy him so much he tries to get away from me, and either is motivation for him to go faster. So I can't see why this will not work.

YOUNG: Peter, thank you so much, best of luck.

SAGAL: My pleasure, and give my best to Hobson.

YOUNG: We will do that. NPR's Peter Sagal and Erich Manser, on a cell phone as they wait to run this morning, Peter guiding Erich today over the 26.2 mile course. What could go wrong? We'll link you to the site where you can track their numbers, again 18624 and 23258, at hereandnow.org. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.