This visually impaired man traveled to Japan to run 1,400 miles in 40 days – and wants to tackle South Korea next

Gary Leung is surrounded by guide runners.

Gary Leung, second from the right, is surrounded by guide runners during his 40-day charity run to the top of Japan’s main island, Honshu.

When Gary Leung lost complete vision in his eyes nearly 15 years ago, it broke him.

The Hong Kong native spiraled into depression – even contemplating suicide – because he thought facing “rock bottom” would be a daily battle. Then he found long-distance running.

Now in his 50s, Leung has since completed the 100-kilometer (62-mile) Antarctic Ice Marathon, becoming the first blind person to do so; attempted the 400km ‘Ultra Gobi’, considered among the toughest foot-races in the world; and is fresh off a 2,300km charity run from Japan’s southern city of Kagoshima on Kyushu Island up to northern Aomori on the country’s main island, Honshu.

The Japanese “Dark Run 2023” was segmented into 40 days, meaning Leung and his interchanging guide runners – connected by a string attachment – ran an average of more than 50km per day.

Gary Leung

Leung was born with a rare retinal disease.

Leung tells CNN Travel the group quickly encountered difficulties in the dangerously narrow district roads, forcing them to tear up their plans and identify suitable off-road spaces to run their pre-planned distance before being transported to the next leg.

The run was aimed at raising money for young people with critical illnesses via the Roly Poly Inclusion Sports Association, a local non-profit, with proceeds – over HKD300,000 (US$38,000) – going to Make-A-Wish Hong Kong.

“Although a lot of people may say, ‘Wow you ran the span of Japan, you’re so impressive,’ I’m actually not,” says Leung, who was born with a rare retinal disease that deteriorated to the point that he completely lost his vision.

“The most impressive are these children. I wanted to show them that we all have our obstacles, but we must face them head-on and with bravery. When they’re faced with theirs – many of them suffer from worse difficulties – they can see it’s possible to overcome.”

‘No need to be scared’

Gary Leung, third from left, stands among supporters.

Gary Leung, third from left, stands among supporters.Though Leung can’t physically see things in front of him, he says that doesn’t make him fearful of running long distances.

“There’s no need to be scared if you are lacking in something; the universe will bless them with other talents. And they are never alone, just like I wasn’t alone on this run. My guide runners sacrificed their own holidays and put their own money in to fly over and support me.”

The beneficiary’s chair, Anita Lai, says Leung’s “arduous effort” in Japan was “truly an inspiration to all child patients in encouraging them to combat their illnesses with a positive attitude.”

Leung, who is the first runner with visual impairment in Hong Kong to hold a long-distance coaching license, has goals that even outsize his mammoth feats of endurance.

“I want to pass the torch. I’m not the youngest anymore and won’t be able to run these distances much longer,” he says, smiling.

“I want to help my younger friends with similar impairments to learn to love exercise. Doing physical activities is not as easy for them as it is for able-bodied people, so I want to maintain a platform where we can continue to bring things to them – and for them to do the same for more.”

Gary Leung runs alongside a guide runner.

Leung jogs alongside a guide during his recent long-distance run in Japan.

Next up for Leung and his tight-knit crew is the Marathon des Sables, a 250km desert run from Morocco to France, next April.

The remainder of 2024 will be devoted to blueprinting an endurance course closer to home.

“I want to run the circumference of South Korea,” Leung says.

“We’re still figuring out the distances and logistics. I have the passing of the torch in mind, so I want to run it with others with visual impairments. It’s never just about me.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *