Runner turns devastating illness into inspiration

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Theresa Khayyam (Photo submitted)
Being blind will not stop Theresa Khayyam from running in the Walt Disney World Marathon on Thursday, Jan. 10, at Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

“I'm pretty excited about it,” Khayyam said. “Athletes from across the country will be attending. I’ll be the one representing Nashville.”

Khayyam, 47, was born in Chicago but raised in Southaven, Mich. She moved to Nashville 23 years ago to attend Tennessee State University.

After earning a degree in civil engineering, she decided to stay in town and found employment at the Tennessee Department of Transportation, where she worked for 12 years until taking an early retirement.

Two years ago, Khayyam thought she was suffering from symptoms of the common cold, but she was in for an unexpected shock.

First, her vision began to decline.

“I thought I was just getting old,” Khayyam said, adding she then went to an optometrist to get her prescription renewed.

“Five months later my vision was gone,” she recalled.

A viral infection got into her retina, resulting in blindness in both eyes.

At first she thought it was a temporary problem until she spent a week in the hospital and the doctors told her that the damage was already done. Despite giving her doses of eye drops and antibiotics, the doctors discovered that there was too much scar tissue in her retina.

Though the devastating news came as a shock, Khayyam said she was not discouraged.

“It was definitely something to get used to, but I didn’t let it get me down,” she explained. “I believe that God can do great things, and I’m looking forward to what he will do for me.”

In fact, after receiving her diagnosis, one of the first things that crossed her mind was running the Nashville Country Music Marathon, a longtime goal of hers.

Khayyam said she got involved with the new Nashville chapter of Achilles, a nonprofit organization that supports disabled athletes. With Achilles acting as a support system, she became serious about running.

Last April, she participated in the Country Music Marathon and finished in 3 hours and 30 minutes.

“I did a lot better than I expected to,” she said with a giggle.

Khayyam also works out at the YMCA and is training for the upcoming Disney marathon by running on the treadmill.

The Disney Half Marathon, sponsored by The Cigna Foundation, is only one of many goals Khayyam said she has set for herself.

“I'd like to start a nonprofit organization that educates people about blindness,” she said. “I’d like to start a program for blind sensitivity training.”

The athlete is currently unsure if she will return to a regular job, but Khayyam said she is enjoying her life despite the loss of her vision.

“Even though I’m blind, this will not limit me,” she said. “I most definitely do not want to be denied, and I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me.”

Khayyam smiles often and has a charm to her that many people cannot resist. Her upbeat attitude has inspired other athletes in Achilles, as well as her family and friends.

The Half Marathon and Walt Disney World Marathon are two of 16 marathons that Achilles International participants take part in during the year. The events allow the chance for disabled athletes to bond with other participants with similar disabilities and improve their health and fitness.
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Disney World, Health, Living Well, Nashville, Running, Sports, Theresa Khayyam, Walt Disney World Marathon
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