PUBLISHED:July 23, 2009

Leslie Sherman Nordin '96

Leslie Nordin ran the Boston Marathon blindfolded. For four hours, 17 minutes, and 48 seconds on the third Monday in April she navigated the rugged course of the world's oldest annual marathon while tethered to a guide, battling crowded roads, uncertain steps, and Chestnut Hill's daunting 80-foot ascent at mile 21 on her way to an emotional finish in Copley Square.

Understandably proud of her achievement that inspired friends and strangers alike, Nordin explains that her goal in Boston was to inspire her son, Sawyer, who was born blind in 2004.

"I want to raise awareness about the abilities of people who are blind, but also on a very personal level I hope to inspire my son when he gets older, as he grows, to set goals for himself that seem unattainable and reach them and do things that people might not think he can do," Nordin says.

Already a veteran of the Boston, Charlotte, New York, and Chicago marathons — she started competing while at Duke Law, along with classmate Claire Kresse White — Nordin was relatively unphased by the physical demands of the race. More daunting was the mental exhaustion produced by having to carefully navigate the course instead of relying on her familiar running cadence.

Three different guides, working in shifts, helped Nordin compensate for her lack of sight. Her husband, Dayton, led her down the marathon's final stretch despite suffering an injury while training for the race. "It took great selflessness and commitment on the part of each of my guides. I could not have done that without them," she says.

Ultimately, the determined mother of two - daughter Riley is 3 years old - relied on her parenting experience for perspective.

"What I aim for every day is to just expect Sawyer to do the best he can that day, to just be the best he can be. Ironically, that's what I learned when I was putting so much pressure on myself as I trained blindfolded," Nordin says. "I realized that all I could expect from myself was to do the best I could. Completing the race was very emotional because the impetus of this whole thing is so personal to me."

Adjusting to a new reality

The Nordins did not know their son would be blind. Sawyer's blindness forced the couple to alter their expectations for his growth and development, she says.

"It takes a lot of repetition and a lot of incremental steps to get him comfortable with something new because new things can be scary without vision. He has to learn about the world in a completely different way and that doesn't happen for a child who's blind as quickly as it does for a child who's sighted," Nordin says. "Both my husband and I are very achievement oriented, but you have to let go of that and learn patience. It's a constant balance between challenging Sawyer but also making him feel safe about the world around him."

"You have to celebrate every accomplishment, every step of the way, every milestone," she adds. "You celebrate it and realize how much work it took to get there for him and for us."

Nordin worked part-time with Morris, Manning & Martin following Sawyer's birth, an arrangement she continued until October of last year. She currently does occasional project work for her former firm and serves as a spokesperson for causes and organizations that benefit individuals who are blind or visually impaired.

Sawyer attends pre-school at Boston's renowned Perkins School for the Blind, where Helen Keller was a student in the late 19th century. Nordin raised $31,000 for the school with her blindfolded marathon with many of those contributions coming from her fellow Duke Law alumni.

"While I was fundraising my story got around to a lot of law school classmates," Nordin says. "I was absolutely blown away by people who donated from my law school class who I haven't spoken to since graduation. I was so touched by that."

Nordin first accepted the "blindfold challenge" two years ago as part of the Vision 5K, a Boston-area race benefitting the Carroll Center for the Blind, MAB Community Services, the National Braille Press, and the Perkins School. She had resisted wearing a blindfold to that point because of an article she read stating that the activity would cause her to become afraid for her child and lower her expectations accordingly.

Her change of heart for the local race produced "a life-changing experience" that raised her expectations for herself and, she hopes, for her son.

"When I took that blindfold challenge it affected me in such a powerfully positive way. That's when I came up with the idea of taking it one step further and doing a marathon," Nordin says. "I think it really leaves you feeling empowered as a parent and also feeling a lot better about your child's disability."

"As a parent one of my greatest fears is that people see Sawyer and they lower their expectations of him as he goes through life," she adds. "I would hate for that to happen."