It was fascinating to read Amy Shipley's story about Marla Runyan the legally blind runner [front page, Aug. 26]. Ms. Runyan's determination and grit and skills are truly an inspiration for all.
However, she is not the first or the greatest athlete to overcome the obstacle of near blindness. For nearly half a century the great ballerina Alicia Alonso battled her increasing disability while enthralling audiences the world over. She had to retire from dance at the beginning of her illustrious career to spend a year in bed because of an operation for detached retinas, but thereafter she returned to ever greater triumphs as her sight steadily decreased.
And Ms. Alonso did not run in a straight line, as a runner does. She leapt, balanced, turned, hurled herself into unseen partners' arms and retained impeccable line and technical skills while ever deepening her glorious interpretive powers. Her stamina was legendary. Outlasting all her partners, she retired only when arthritis forced it, and by that time her partner was her grandson.
Only once, the story goes, did her impeccable senses fail her. In the ballet "Giselle" (called the dancer's "Hamlet") she had to pick a daisy -- and could not see it to pick it. Her partner had to guide her hand. But later in that ballet, she had to throw flowers to her partner, Igor Youskevitch, and he would pluck them from the air.
I assumed that Mr. Youskevitch's athletic skills -- he was a former Olympic high jumper -- allowed him to catch those flowers. Later I decided that it was Ms. Alonso's musical sense. I mentioned this to dancer Royes Fernandez, and he agreed. "When Alicia tossed them to me," he said, "I never missed."
We in the United States were not permitted to see Ms. Alonso for most of her career. She is Cuban and was loyal to Fidel Castro. She was therefore barred from appearing here. But in the autumn of her career, she returned in glory to New York, and the welcoming applause lasted 15 minutes. Later that year she came to the Kennedy Center to perform some remarkable "Giselles," remarkable for any dancer, much more for a blind dancer in her fifties. I saw two of them, as clearly as I could for the tears.