Being a blind ironman is like being Iron Man - but tougher

There may be no superheroes in real life, but you still can become an Iron Man. It is a title you can earn by competing in an Ironman event, a triathlon involving a two-and-a-half mile swim, a 112-mile mountain bike ride and rounded off by a 26-mile marathon.

New York lawyer and veteran of 17 marathons Richard Bernstein has completed the gruelling course — a notable achievement because he has been blind since birth.He will speak about his refusal to bow to adversity in London next week at the Chabad UK dinner. “When you are blind, everything is a battle,” he said.

To reach law school at Chicago’s Northwestern University, he had to challenge entry rules which deterred blind candidates. “I don’t read or write,” he said. “I had to memorise everything. I prayed to God every day to give me the strength to become a lawyer. I promised Hashem that if he gave me the chance to practise law, I would dedicate my entire professional career to representing people with disabilities.”

A pledge he made good on. Now 39, he heads a division of his father Sam Bernstein’s law firm, taking on pro bono and often precedent-setting cases.

He has fought for wheelchair-users to get access to buses: for disabled war veterans to attend football stadiums: for airports and airlines to take better care of disabled passengers. “The service was so bad that people with disabilities weren’t travelling,” he said.

It was through athletics that he found the confidence he needed to be a legal campaigner.

Taking part in the Ironman triathlon, he had to swim roped to a guide and was not allowed to speak to him. “Imagine how you feel when you are swimming in total darkness and when you come up for air, you can’t, because there’s a swimmer on top of you,” he said.

But his greatest trial came last year when, while walking in Central Park in New York, a cyclist crashed into him, shattering the left side of his body and hospitalising him for 10 weeks.

Although the injury has left him with chronic pain, he is planning a comeback in the New York City marathon later his year. “My goal is to work through it — not to give up, not to stop,” he said.

That he is back on his feet he believes owes a good deal to Lubavitch. “I was in hospital for 70 days,” he said, “Chabad came every day. I don’t think I could have got through this without them.”

Last updated: 12:45pm, May 17 2013