When on the Montour Trail near his house in Cecil Township, Washington County, Mike Bruno tried something new -- he closed his eyes as he walked forward. First it was 15 steps. Then it was 20.
For Bruno, it was a chance to, quite literally, walk in someone else's shoes, with that someone being a person very near and dear to him. His daughter Cassie, 7, is blind and he wanted to experience what she does on a daily basis, even if just for a brief period of time.
On May 5, he'll be taking it a step further as he will run the Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon blindfolded in an effort to raise money and awareness for those afflicted in the same manner as his daughter.
"I started seeing all of these people running for charity all the time and I said, 'Let's do that, let's take it a step further and deprive my senses and get a feel for what my daughter deals with,' " Bruno said. "Going through the training runs blindfolded, it gives me a greater appreciation on how to gather details when I'm guiding my daughter."
Cassie was born prematurely (25 weeks) at 1 pound, 14 ounces, and had to stay at the hospital 114 days before she went home. She was born with what's known as a retinopathy of prematurity, in which there are retinal detachments.
Once an avid runner, Bruno had not participated in the marathon since 1993, but he thought lacing up his shoes again would be a perfect way to communicate his message of help, even if it wouldn't necessarily be easy.
"To sum it all up, the whole process has been humbling," Bruno said. "There's nothing more humbling in my life than when the doctor came in and said that Cassie was going to be blind. Starting back and just struggling for 3 miles in November and December was very humbling."
Bruno is the women's volleyball coach at Point Park, and the school's cross-country coach, Jim Irvin, has been working as his guide on the blindfolded runs, two of which went for 10 miles.
In the meantime, Bruno is raising money for Vision Research ROPARD Foundation, a nonprofit organization that focuses on retinal research for children and adults. He has raised about $8,000 thus far and hopes to raise $42,000, making it $1,000 for every kilometer he will run.
"The support and the encouragement from my friends, colleagues and family have just been overwhelming," Bruno said. "It's fueling my desire to do this even more. The people have been wonderful."
Running blindfolded has been an incredible test for Bruno, one that he said has been beyond rewarding for him.
"It's challenging, but yet comforting," Bruno said. "It's challenging in the sense that vision is our primary sense. She's never had that. I guess the comforting part is that my other senses really pick up and as crazy as it sounds, about a half-hour through our runs, with Jimmy's communication, we kind of get into a rhythm and a comfort zone.
"My other senses pick up. I can hear my foot strike when there's a change of surface, I can smell things before Jimmy, hear things before he does. It's just amazing."
More information on Bruno's work can be found on his website, 26-2blindfolded.com, where people can also make donations.
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter @craig_a_meyer.