Jamison Voss

Courtnie Voss, Mackenzie Petermeier, Jamison Voss and Joni Voss pose for a photo before leaving for the Boston Marathon on Monday in Boston, Mass. Jamison Voss, who is legally blind, ran the race with assistance from his "blonde" guides. Their team: "Blondes Leading the Blind."

HOLSTEIN, Iowa | Joni Voss didn't get teary-eyed until walking away from the Boston Marathon, a quarter-mile from the finish.

She'd run 7 miles with son Jamison Voss, who is legally blind, serving as the third of his four guides in Monday's 26.2-mile race. The two ran hard the last two miles, feeding off a Patriots Day crowd that lined the route, slapping high-fives with Iowa's mother/son pair in the "Blondes Leading The Blind" jerseys.

Jamison Voss, 23, studies computer engineering and mathematics at Iowa State University. He has congenital dominant optic atrophy. It means his optic nerve never developed beyond birth.

The condition keeps Voss from driving. It doesn't keep him from earning A's and B's in college. Didn't prevent him from playing high school football for the Galva-Holstein Pirates, which is how I met him five years ago, for a story that examined his remarkable prep career.

Voss also played basketball and took part in track at Galva-Holstein. "I wasn't much of a runner in track," he says. "I threw discus."

Voss got into running last summer, finding this sport filled idle time as he served an internship in Seattle, Wash., far removed from his family. A 4-mile evening jog became an 8-mile run, which grew to a 12-miler. By the end of the summer, he'd completed the Seattle Rock-n-Roll Marathon and learned his time of 4 hours 15 minutes beat the Boston Marathon qualifying standard for the visually impaired by 45 minutes.

To celebrate the completion of his college education, Jamison Voss planned a Boston Marathon trip for his family. He could run the race with the assistance of three guides: mother Joni and sister Courtnie Voss, both of Holstein, would run 12 kilometers and 10 kilometers, respectively, while cousin Mackenzie Petermeier, of Baxter, Iowa, would guide him along the middle 20 kilometers.

The three women -- all "Blondes" as it were -- would keep pace at Jamison's side, giving audio commands to steer him from trouble.

It went swimmingly until Jamison, with Joni at his side, came within a quarter-mile of the finish. The pack stopped.

"I thought someone ahead of us -- a runner -- had gotten hurt," Jamison says.

"Then we started hearing all sorts of sirens," Joni adds. "Someone ahead of us said there had been an explosion."

Jamison texted his father, Charlie Voss, who waited near the finish. Turns out Charlie and sister Courtnie stood one to two blocks from the finish, awaiting Jamison and Joni.

Charlie and Courtnie saw, heard and felt explosions from two bombs that detonated near the finish, killing three persons, injuring more than 170.

Knowing his family was OK, Jamison loaned his phone to fellow runners. He and his mother did group hugs to keep others warm. Some runners cramped, others battled hypothermia and dehydration, forced to stand still for 90 minutes following a 25 1/2-mile run.

"I was nervous standing there, thinking there may be another explosion," Jamison remembers.

Officials finally walked runners to a line of buses and sent competitors to nearby Boston Commons, where the Voss family reunited.

Jamison Voss didn't finish the race. He left Boston with conflicting memories, no medal.

"Really, it's sad," he says. "It's come to the point where I expect sadness like this in our news like two times per year. It's a product of our times; unnecessary sadness that can't be explained."

It brought Joni to tears as they walked from a finish line easily within reach. And yet, there were people ahead who had died, lost limbs and one another.

"We are so happy we got to come home together, and yet so sad someone is suffering," she says. "We used to take peace for granted."

Jamison comforted his mother, saying they did what was needed at the end of this Boston Marathon. They gave what aid and comfort they could to runners in need. Group hugs and cell phones meant more at that time than crossing a white line beneath a ticking clock.

Jamison Voss, Holstein's legally blind runner, has a race bib and a shirt from the 117th running of the world's oldest marathon. Those souvenirs, and a mix of memories. 

"I have memories of the highest highs and lowest lows," he says. "Both good and bad is what I took away from Boston."


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