Deaf Life24th February 2014

59 Down, 41 To Go, Deafblind Runner James Clarke's Race Against Time

Deafblind since the age of 9, James Clarke is undertaking a remarkable feat

by Sarah Lawrence

Are you one of those people that wake up in the morning with something on your mind? With your sub-conscious working overtime when you are asleep, that waking idea is quite often a solution to a problem you’ve been mulling over or an idea for the future. For Deafblind runner James Clarke, his next great idea came when he woke on New Year’s Day in 2008 – to earn 100 running medals by completing long distance running events.

James was born in Chesterfield, the youngest of four children. Born Deaf, as was his oldest brother, his deafness has been attributed to genetics. James attended a local Partial Hearing Unit before going to the Derby Royal School for the Deaf for his primary and junior school years. Some way from his home, James had to travel back and fore each day, a journey that took an hour. Aged 11, James then went to Burwood Park School for Deaf Boys in Walton on Thames for the first part of his secondary education, transferring back to Derby for his final two years in school. Attending boarding school from the age of 11 to 17 and spending so little time with his family, James did not have the day to day access to the love and support usually available in the family unit.

Aged nine, he was diagnosed with Ushers Syndrome, a degenerative illness affecting his eye-sight, a condition also suffered by James’ eldest brother. Whilst James’ education did not lead him to a particular trade or area of work, he was introduced to sport at Burwood School, with running being something that he liked. “I remember watching the London Marathon on TV with my grandfather and waving to the runners,” James recalled. “I always started running around out in the garden afterwards and just loved it.”

Leaving school without any clear direction ahead of him, James felt aimless and for a while he told me that he lived out of a suitcase, moving from one place to another looking for something that excited him. Whilst he started a number of college courses, he just could not settle down to anything. Hyperactive and high energy all the time, it always seemed as though he was looking for something more. In amongst this unsettled part of his life, James’ eyesight was slowly getting worse. Aged 21, tests showed further deterioration and James recalls life getting tougher as his eyesight got worse. A further test when aged 26, resulted in an operation to remove cataracts. “It was like having a new window, but inside, the house is still the same”, James explained. Feeling alone and isolated in his life, James moved to Nottingham for a few years, before moving to London where he has lived for the last 3 years.

During his younger years, James recalls being frustrated at not being able to communicate or have a relationship due to darkness when his Deaf friends were going to pubs and nightclubs. In the end, he felt the need to drink to help build his confidence to communicate, but sadly that did not lead to positive outcomes. After 1:1 psychotherapy sessions and with more life experience, he learned to avoid putting himself in such situations and do something more positive with his life.

Most people waking with the idea of doing 100 long distance runs, would quickly try and forget that thought and just get on with their lives. For James, that waking moment on the 1st January 2008 marked a turning point in his life. Doing his first run quickly afterwards, James then took until August 2008 to get his second competition medal. Since then, he has been clocking up further medals on a regular basis despite his deteriorating eyesight.

Whilst running is something you can do anywhere and at any time, James’ eyesight means that he is limited to running during daylight hours. Seeking companionship as well as access to running coaches, James has tried to join running clubs but without success. At one point he attended a running club with a Communication Support Worker, “Unfortunately, I felt totally isolated whilst there”, James explained, “Nobody made me feel welcome at the club, and the CSW was not experienced enough with BSL to act as an interpreter.”

James has also looked at joining his local running club at Croydon but, sadly, this is not accessible to him. They meet at 6pm ruling out large parts of the year due to darkness, and there is no-one there who can use BSL. Interpreters expect to get paid even if they want to come along to do some running and I simply cant afford to pay for that myself. “Ideally, I need a running coach who can use BSL, but I just haven’t found one’, James told me.

Now well into his 100 medal challenge but unable to find a permanent job, James spends some of his time giving motivational talks, raising deafblind awareness as well as talking about his running experiences. “I love talking to children about being Deafblind”, James told me, “I like to demonstrate how my sight works and always use resources they will remember. One of the things I do is ask for a volunteer to come out, hold my iPad, and to film me. After I give them the iPad they always start walking backwards away from me. I say, ‘hey, why are you walking away’, and they say, ‘so that I can film everything, not just a little bit’. I use that to explain what I can see and that I need people to move away from me so that I can see them better”.

James has given his talk at many Deaf groups and Deaf schools. If you are interested in James giving a talk for you, please contact him through Facebook/Deafblind-Runners-100-Run-Medals-Challenge 


A well-known Liverpool supporter, James spends some of his down time going to coffee shops and cafes. Having taken up his Deafblind runner challenge publicly through Facebook and other social media, James feels he is now under more pressure to get the 100 medals than when he first set out with the intention to do it before he lost his eyesight altogether.

A healthy eater, I asked James if he had any tips for our readers. James explained that when he wakes he often eats banana because it has a good source of zinc. He loves porridge and honey 2 – 3 hours before running a long distance. On the day of a race he will always eat banana, porridge and honey and never eat full English breakfast.

With 59 medals now safely tucked away, James just has the 41 medals to go! “When I am taking part in a race, I am always looking for local deaf runners to run with me or someone local that can use BSL. If you follow me on Facebook you can see where I am competing, and if you would like to join me, that would be great.” If you would like to support James, please go to his Facebook page and get in touch with him at Facebook/Deafblind-Runners-100-Run-Medals-Challenge 

Up until now, James has been self funding all of his races, but he was delighted to secure the support of SignVideo as a main sponsor. Having struggled to fund his 100 race challenge up to now, it is a boost for James to have the financial support from SignVideo. Further sponsorship opportunities exist and James would be grateful for anyone who wishes to sponsor/donate to help him complete the challenge.

One of the proudest moments in James’ life came at 6.54am on the 30th June 2012, when he had the honour of becoming one of the bearers for the Olympic Torch. Nominated by a hearing friend, James chose to run his leg in Derby because of the strong Deaf community there, and he was delighted to see so many people turn out to support him. At the end of his leg, James passed on the flame to a young lady and he was surprised and delighted when you signed ‘thank you’ to him. Later that day he went to Derby Deaf Club where he talked about the experience and allowed people to see the torch. So many people wanted to have their photograph taken with him and the torch that his cheeks were sore from smiling that day!



James met one of his heroes last year, Gerry Hughes. “I felt so honoured to meet Gerry and I have his poster in the hallway ‘never, never, never give up’ to remind me what Gerry went through.” Gerry has been a huge inspiration to James, as has all of the support he gets through his Facebook page, without which he feels he may not have the determination to continue.

In 2013 James completed 15 long distance races making it the best year since he started the challenge. He hopes to do the same in 2014 but he is currently waiting to move house and is thinking of moving to live in or near Liverpool. He is a big Liverpool fan and he is currently on the waiting list. He is looking forward to meeting the Liverpool Deaf community.

If you are a deaf runner or a BSL user and would like to assist James by running with him, he would love you to get in touch. 

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Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Community / Deaf Life

24th February 2014