After the Boston Marathon bombings last year, many of the students at Stall High School in North Charleston were worried about a blind runner they had heard speak just weeks before.
Charlie Plaskon, 70, of Moriches, N.Y., had run last year's Cooper River Bridge Run with Stall's principal, Kim Wilson as a guide, and then ran in Boston with another guide nine days later.
Plaskon was at Mile 25 when police told the pair that they had to leave the course and find their way back to their hotel.
"It was crazy," Plaskon said. "We didn't know what was going on. We heard there was an explosion at the finish line. There were police officers with guns. There were helicopters. Ambulances were trying to get through. They wanted everybody out of the area. People were scurrying everywhere....
"But that's when the real race began," said Plaskon, adding that he and his guide took three hours to get back to the hotel on the chilly day.
On Thursday, Plaskon returned to Charleston with plans to run the Bridge Run with Wilson on Saturday and talk to the school Friday about his experiences at Boston, as well as offer two very special gifts.
Plaskon will donate his precious Boston Marathon medal, which he received in the mail despite not officially finishing, and his marathon shirt - both likely future collector's items - to the school.
"I can't just hang this medal on the wall. I want to share it with the kids and let it serve as an example that stuff is going to happen and to use those experiences to learn."
Among those who were concerned about Plaskon's safety last year were three students, sophomores Jean Lachance, R.J. Garcia and Patrick Shaw, who met with him Thursday.
They were struck not only by Plaskon's generous gifts to the school but also were in near disbelief at the news that their principal was going to run this year's Boston Marathon on April 21 with Plaskon.
Wilson developed a close friendship with Plaskon in the past year and is a runner, but the one and only marathon he has run was in 1979.
Starting in December, Wilson started training for the marathon but has purposely done his training in the dark so that he could understand some of the obstacles Plaskon faces on a daily basis.
"I wanted to know how Charlie would feel running, essentially in the dark," Wilson said. "I've fallen three times and let me tell you, at 61, you don't fall like you did when you were 40."
Plaskon said Wilson's extra effort shows his special leadership qualities.
"He didn't have to do that. It's above and beyond. And then when he tells me he fell down, I said, 'Geez, you don't have to be that realistic,'" Plaskon said. "That's what makes this place (Stall) so special. He's the leader of this place."
While the Boston medal is precious in the world of running, Plaskon gives all of his medals from marathons and triathlons away, ever since he started running them shortly before 9/11. He wants to remind people to overcome obstacles in life.
Plaskon started losing his sight as a young child due to macular dystrophy. The disability has never stopped him from doing what he wanted to do, thanks to the "love from my mother and the drive from my father."
"When I was a kid and things started going downhill quickly, my parents took me to doctors," he said. "I heard one doctor say to my father, 'Mr. Plaskon, I advise you to never let your son to leave the house. The world's too dangerous a place for him.'"
"You want to know what my father's response to that was? He took me home, he turned me around and said, 'Don't you listen to that doctor. Don't let me ever let me hear you use your eyes as an excuse for not doing something with yourself.' "
That tough love has paid dividends ever since.
Plaskon attended college and had a 32-year career as a high school teacher, before retiring in 1999 at the age of 55. Retirement, however, didn't suit him and he took up running, an activity that he used to look down on.
"To be perfectly honest, I thought running was something for people who didn't have anything better to do with their time," Plaskon said.
After his 19-year-old niece ran a 10K, Plaskon decided to give it a try. He realized it was a true challenge.
As in the rest of his life, Plaskon seized it and ran a 5K, then a 10K, a half marathon and then multiple marathons. After he ran three marathons in three weeks, he decided to take up another challenge - completing a triathlon.
Despite taking two years to learn to swim, Plaskon has duplicated his running achievements in triathlon, going from a sprint triathlon to completing full Ironman distance triathlons, including the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.
Reach David Quick at 937-5516.
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