Jared Blank harnessed his strong legs, his robust lungs and his diagnosis of dyslexia to successfully complete the World Marathon Challenge, an epic 7-day trip around the world that gives participants the chance to run seven marathons on seven continents in a week’s time. But, dyslexia as a benefit? You bet.
“I realized when I was running, dyslexia was what allowed me to compete in and complete this challenge,” Blank explained. “When you have dyslexia, you have to figure out workarounds, and you have to think about your world differently. Dyslexia is seen as such a negative thing, but I really do see it as a superpower that allows me to do what might be considered impossible.”
Blank gave up his position as football operations director for USC to tackle the challenge and raise awareness for dyslexia, a condition he was diagnosed with at 5 years old, and one that affects between 15 and 20 percent of all Americans.
“Dyslexia is not cancer, and I recognize it doesn’t have the same impact on people’s lives,” Blank told Purpose2Play weeks before he boarded the chartered plane for the World Marathon Challenge. “But, it takes a toll on a person, and you have to rebuild their confidence and remind them they are not stupid.”
Blank’s superpower took him to a 10th overall finish among men in the challenge that saw 50 competitors run marathons in Novo, Antarctica, Cape Town, Perth, Dubai, Lisbon, Cartagena and Miami. That’s certainly a great accomplishment considering all that can potentially go wrong over 183.4 miles on foot and thousands of miles in the air.
“The experience and being able to do it, I felt grateful the entire time,” Blank said. “The cool thing for me was while it wasn’t perfect from a race standpoint, I got to experience all the feelings you can go through while racing, from having solid races to having some disappointment, to regrouping and getting back up, to finishing to the best of my ability.”
Going into the experience, Blank didn’t have expectations for how fast he would complete each race. His primary goal was to stay healthy and make sure he crossed each finish line. However, due to a leg injury, there were times when even that came into question.
“In Perth, I was running a pretty good clip and at mile 22, I heard something in my leg. It completely locked up on me,” Blank said. “I was on the ground, rubbing my knee, trying to get it to respond. One of the other athletes who was part of the wheelchair crew said, ‘Just finish. Just think about getting to Dubai. Don’t worry about time.’ While I was frustrated and disappointed, I had that in the back of my mind and I ended up being straight-legged on it for the rest of that race.”
Despite the hot soaks, cold tubs, massages and foam rolling, Blank’s IT band continued to throw a fit around the 22-mile mark of the remaining races, but he was able to hobble to the finish line each time.
“I kind of re-adapted my mind to where my body was at physically. I had that gauge of how I was going to approach those races going forward, so my attitude and body were aligned in terms of accepting what I could do physically, and then pushing to the best of my ability given my new circumstance,” Blank said.
And, that strategy led Blank to running his fastest marathon of the challenge (4:03:36) on the final stop in Miami.
“I trained to get hit by a ‘sledge hammer’ and keep going,” Blank said. “That’s because you don’t know what’s going to happen in these long endurance challenges, so it helped to have the mindset to keep going when adversity strikes.”
When he crossed that final finish line, he was hit with elation, and promptly embraced by his family, who had traveled to be with him in the shining moment.
“My family was so important throughout the process,” Blank said. “I was the athlete in the project, but they all played roles that were equally as important, if not more important than what I was doing.”
Blank’s body is still trying to recover from this massive effort. But, his work is not done. Although he raised $7,000 for the International Dyslexia Association, his goal is to reach $50,000 by working on various fundraising projects in his Oregon town, and unsurprisingly, he doesn’t plan on stopping until he reaches the finish line.