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Sagar Baheti makes history by finishing Boston Marathon

BOSTON -- In the midst of thousands of runners pushing to the finish of the 2017 Boston Marathon, India's Sagar Baheti stood out. He crossed the line holding his Indian flag up in the air.

Something else stands out about Baheti. At a little more than four hours, he became India's first visually impaired runner to participate and finish the race.

Afterward, he sat in the lobby of the Park Plaza Hotel smiling with his parents, Vishnukanta and Naresh Baheti, who flew in from India to support him. They seemed slightly overwhelmed at the enormity of the event, but their smiles never ceased. He wore his medal around his neck, while his mom held his laminated flag.

"This has to be one of the most significant days for me," Sagar said.

The 26.2-mile journey was not easy. After running on dirt in India, running on the asphalt course got difficult. At around 17 miles, Baheti felt his shins giving up on him.

"I told myself, 'Even if I have to crawl to the finish line, I am not letting it go. I have to cross the line,'" the 30-year-old runner from Bangalore said.

Four years ago, he was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a genetic disorder that has caused progressive deterioration of the central portion of his retina. He may never be entirely blind, but his vision will get worse -- he wouldn't be able to see past a few centimeters -- and it may be hard for him to distinguish colors.

This did not stop him from being an inspiration to millions of people in India and around the world. He has run marathons before -- the Ladakh Marathon, the Coorg Escapade and the Bangalore ultra-marathon -- but Boston was his first outside of India.

In preparation for the race, Baheti arrived in Boston on April 7, taking time to acclimatize to the city and its weather. He was terrified it was going to be too cold, especially after getting used to running in the 95-degree temps in Bangalore, but said the weather gods have been good to him.

"I went for runs on the streets and saw runners everywhere. They are so much more competitive here," he said.

And he wouldn't have wanted it any other way, he said. "This is a movement of sorts, and it was incredible to be a part of it."

"Usually, parents inspire children, but now my son is inspiring me," his mother, Vishnukanta, said.

This was also the first time Sagar ran with guides. He had three throughout the course, and he said it was a fantastic experience. The guides described the race atmosphere what spectators were up to. Sagar felt it all, he said.

Although he aimed to finish the race in three and a half hours, he was glad he was able to make it through his shin issues and cross the finish line.

Before heading back to India, Baheti is making a pit stop in Frankfurt, Germany, where he plans to run a half marathon on May 7.

Does he want to come back to Boston again?

"Absolutely," he said. "I can't wait to qualify and run again."