Dressed in a salmon-pink sun hat and translucent rain jacket, Janet Leonard leaned into the wind, over the railing and gave the golden cowbell tied around her neck a firm shake. Clang! Clang! Clang! Her sweetheart of 22 years picked out the familiar sound from the hundreds of screaming onlookers. He glanced in her direction, offered a big smile and two thumbs up then turned back toward the finish line of the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. Leonard snapped a picture with her digital camera. She'd share it with the couple's friends and family back home in Lakewood, Colo. But her sweetheart would not see the picture. He's blind. "Janet is my manager, my support crew, my coordinator, my guide,” said Kerry Cook, 50, whose Type 1 diabetes caused him to lose his vision nearly three decades ago. "She's also my fiancee — has been for 15 or 20 years.” He grinned. "We're not rushing things.” Cook and Leonard met in 1985, when Cook's blindness was still categorized as legal, not total.
Sights are set on BostonLeonard is really one of three loves in Cook's life. The second is his seeing-eye dog, Audi, a Labrador retriever whose hair is more cream than yellow. The third is running. Audi guided Cook through his first ever race, the 2006 Bolder Boulder in Colorado. But she was forced to watch from behind the gates on Sunday. "There aren't a lot of races where guide dogs are permitted,” Cook said. So when Cook decided he would attempt to qualify for next year's Boston Marathon — blind runners need only finish in less than five hours — by running at Oklahoma City this weekend, he sought a fitter guide. Leonard handed her sweetheart off to Matt Guidry, a 33-year-old landscaper who lives in Denver. "Matt's wife (Jenna) was in the same running club as Kerry,” Leonard said. "She asked him to step up and help (Cook).” Guidry had never run a marathon but happily accepted the challenge. "Kerry's in such good shape,” Guidry said. "He had to put a lot of faith in me.” On Sunday, Guidry and Cook set out from the starting line. The guide ran in front, watching for potholes and people. Checking Cook's blood sugar on a monitor every couple of minutes. He narrated for the man with "Blind Runner” printed in large, red block letters across his jersey. "I tried to paint a picture for him,” Guidry said. "To distract him so he wouldn't get bored. Kerry's got a great sense of humor.” Through Bricktown. Past the Capitol. Around Lake Hefner. Guidry described it all for Cook. And in just over 4 hours, 39 minutes, they crossed the finish to qualify for the 2009 Boston Marathon. "These days, the diabetes is more of a challenge than the blindness,” Leonard said after the race. "You just have to have a good guide and you're OK.” Said Guidry: "This was really good for us. We've developed a friendship and felt a lot of the same things in training. I'm excited for him. He's pretty excited, too.” Cook's sweetheart has the picture to prove it.
Blind runner Kerry Cook walks with his guide, Matt Guidry, after finishing the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon on Sunday. BY BRYAN TERRY, THE OKLAHOMAN