June 26, 2013-POWDER SPRINGS: Mark & Deidri Cumbie run together in their Powder Springs neighborhood on Wednesday June 26th, 2013, as the train for the Peachtree Road Race. They will run as a team tethered by a bandana because Deidri is blind. PHIL SKINNER / PSKINNER@AJC.COM editor's note: CQ
Photo: Phil Skinner
Photo: Phil Skinner

Couple keeps the finish line in sight

Mark and Deidri Cumbie will run Thursday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race as a team.

Connected by a bandana, they will run the 6.2-mile race side by side. Mark will keep up the conversation, telling Deidri what he sees.

You see Deidri lost her vision to the effects of a brain tumor more than 20 years ago.

When they run, Mark is her eyes and her navigator as they work around the things that would be considered annoyances to most of the other runners: the mass of people, the street curbs, the vendors tossing things into the crowd.

“Every day we all face challenges,” she said.

They met as 10th graders more than 35 years ago at Pebblebrook High School.

Mark walked into study hall, saw Deidri, and said, “How have I missed you? We need to go out.”

They took his red Corvair van to the drive-in theatre in Austell. Neither knows what movie they saw. Both laugh when asked if the van had anything to do with their bad memories.

They were married within a few months of graduating in 1976.

Heather was born in 1980. Ashley came 4 ½ years later.

Mark and Deidri played soccer together on different teams. Mark coached the girls’ teams. Mark drove trucks, still does. Deidri learned accountancy.

She developed what she thought was a sinus infection in October 1990. Migraine headaches followed.

A neurologist looked into her eyes and left the room without saying a word in January 1991. He came back in a few minutes later and said he set her up to go straight to the emergency room. They found a brain tumor.

The tumor turned out to be benign, but had to be removed in February because the doctors feared it could become malignant.

However, the post-op swelling destroyed the optic nerve.

Just 32, with her girls in fifth and first grades, Deidri was thrown into total darkness. Mark is thankful that she can still remember colors.

Adjustments needed to be made while Deidri learned how to live without sight.

Mark had never balanced a checkbook. He had rarely shopped for groceries. Mark blindfolded the girls to teach them the importance of not leaving their toys in the floor where Deidri could step on them.

To help his wife after he returned to work, Mark devised a way of using pieces of tape that he would put on the buttons of the microwave or washing machine so that Deidri would know which ones to push.

Still, Mark said he worried. The worst part for Mark was fighting the urge to do everything for her, from how she held everyday objects to anything that was at first difficult. Deidri refused to let him.

After nine months, with the help of a rehabilitation service, Deidri was able to re-learn how to do everything she could once do, except of course to drive. Learning Braille was the most difficult.

“There was a point when I was learning to write that I just wanted to throw it down,” she said. “But what kind of example was that?”

The family began playing sports again. Mark bought a tandem bike. He found a soccer ball that had a bell in it so Deidri could hear it when it was being dribbled.

They began working out at the gym, hiking and running together.

The Powder Springs couple ran their first 5k, the Dallas Dash, in 2009 and finished second in their age group. This will be their first Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race and their first 10k.

Deidri said she goes to bed every night without thinking about her loss of sight. Mark wishes she could see sunsets. But he laughs and said the good part is she will always remember what he used to look like when he was a younger man.

“She knows I haven’t aged a bit,” he said.

Deidri said there are some things she wishes she could have seen, such as her daughters receiving their diplomas or them in their wedding dresses. Most of all, she says she misses seeing the love in her husband’s eyes.

Still she and Mark stress they always focus on the positives. But the love seems obvious, evidenced by the bandana, a symbol of a love born at a drive-in so many years ago.

“We don’t choose the race we are going to run, but you persevere and finish the race before you,” she said.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.