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Blindfolded Bruno completes run to fight condition that has left his daughter blind

| Sunday, May 5, 2013, 7:15 p.m.
Point Park volleyball coach Mike Bruno (left) runs with his guide runner, Jim Irvin of Aspinwall, at the start of the Pittsburgh Marathon on Sunday. Bruno ran the marathon blindfolded to raise awareness for retinopathy of prematurity, which caused blindness in his daughter.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Point Park volleyball coach Mike Bruno (left) runs with his guide runner, Jim Irvin of Aspinwall, at the start of the Pittsburgh Marathon on Sunday. Bruno ran the marathon blindfolded to raise awareness for retinopathy of prematurity, which caused blindness in his daughter.

On Saturday, the day before running blindfolded in the Pittsburgh Marathon, Mike Bruno took a light jog on the Roaring Run trail in Apollo, where he grew up. He stopped to rest on a bench he memorialized to his father and pondered the task ahead and also recalled a long-ago conversation with his dad, who died in 2011.

“I was telling him I had aspirations of a running career,” said Bruno, once a standout distance runner at Robert Morris. “He said, ‘You'll never make any money. Get a job.' ”

Bruno paused and smiled. The Point Park University volleyball coach had heeded the advice.

“But, due to the outpouring of generosity, kindness and support, this community proved my dad wrong,” he said.

Cash donations continue to roll in from the efforts of Bruno, his wife, Jennifer, and others to fight the rare disease that robbed one of the Brunos' daughters of her sight. More than $24,000 was raised as of Sunday morning, Jennifer Bruno said, and more is expected now that her husband and “guide runner” Jim Irvin have completed their unique mission.

Tethered to Irvin arm-to-arm by an 18-inch nylon cord, Bruno, 44, covered the 26.2 miles blindfolded to promote the cause (their time was 3:38.51) and gain a better understanding of what 7-year-old Cassie Bruno confronts each day of her life. About four months after her premature birth she was diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity, which causes blindness. She also is autistic.

But there she was, tiny and curly-haired, sitting in a big red wagon, waiting to greet her daddy after the race with a kiss and big squeeze around his neck. Her 9-year-old sister, Carly, was there, too, along with an army of friends and relatives.

“I'm so proud of him,” Kathy Bruno said of her son. “What he did was awesome. He's so genuine with his feelings for other people, especially special-needs children. He would help anybody, but this was over the top.”

Carly put it another way.

“I think it's really cool,” she said.

Things were not so cool during the last five or six miles, when temperatures quickly warmed.

“It was hard out there,” said Irvin, 49, the Point Park men's and women's cross country coach. “It was really hot coming in. And Mike was starting to get all weebly-wobbly disoriented, not being able to see.”

Said Bruno, “I know I was a pain in the (rear) there for a while. I was weaving. He was struggling. So I was trying to help him out, but when I was weaving I knew I wasn't doing him any justice.”

This was the first marathon for Bruno in 20 years and the first for Irvin in 15.

The last one, Irvin said, “was nothing like this.”

Both said the shared communication was good and the crowd support was terrific.

“I had total trust in Jimmy,” Bruno said. “And the people that cheered and encouraged us, it was just amazing.”

Maybe a bit too amazing on occasion.

“With the crowd and the bands, as motivating as it was for me, sometimes it was sensory overload,” Bruno said. “Sometimes there was a great crowd when we had to make a turn, and it's real loud, and I'm trying to gain my bearings. That was a real challenge.”

There were other challenges, such as one runner who cut in front of the pair to grab a “gu pack” (an energy food that sounds like its name), and another who stopped cold with a pulled hamstring. Irvin and Bruno nearly ran each of them over.

“I jerked Mike around and said, ‘We're not stopping,' ” Irvin said of the hamstrung runner encounter. “We did not feel good.”

That came later.

Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter@BCohn_Trib.

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