State Supreme Court Justice to test his mettle at marathon


By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

When he steps to the starting line of the Detroit Free Press/TCF Bank Marathon on October 20, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein will help redefine the age-old running expression “no pain, no gain.”

In fact, the 44-year-old Bernstein admits that he has been in chronic pain since suffering a series of devastating injuries 7 years ago when he was bowled over from behind by a speeding bicyclist while walking in New York’s Central Park.

“The bicyclist had lost control and was going 35 miles per hour when he collided with me,” said Bernstein, who was elected to an 8-year term on the Supreme Court in 2014, thereby becoming the first blind person to sit on the state’s high court. “My hip and my pelvis were shattered in the collision and I spent the next 10 weeks in Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. It was an incredibly painful and difficult experience.”

And yet Bernstein has refused to harbor any ill will toward the bicyclist, viewing the accident instead as an opportunity for “personal growth” and a chance to improve safety conditions for walkers, runners, and bicyclists in the world-renowned Central Park.

“I wasn’t upset with the man who ran into me,” said Bernstein. “I chose to see it as a chance to lobby New York officials to make changes in how pedestrian and bicycle traffic is managed in the park. I began that effort while I was laid up in my hospital bed, and I’m pleased to report that the city instituted a number of changes—including resurfacing the roadway, enforcing speed limits, altering traffic patterns, and installing traffic control devices—that has made the park considerably safer for those who enjoy it on a daily basis.”

Now, some 7 years later, Bernstein has a new goal in mind – to complete the 26.2-mile trek through the streets of Detroit and Windsor in “my hometown marathon” on October 20. If Bernstein is successful, it will be the 23rd notch in his marathon belt.

“I’ve run Detroit several times before, but this will be first time since my accident,” said Bernstein, who has 13 finishes in the New York Marathon to his credit. “This is going to be a grind considering the pain that I’m in, but I need to constantly push myself or that pain will control my very life.”

Sara Reichert, a former All-American runner at Michigan State University, will serve as Bernstein’s running guide during the event, which is the only race to cross international borders twice, once over the Ambassador Bridge and then through the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. Organizers expect that more than 25,000 runners will take part in the October 19-20 race weekend, which also includes races from the 1 mile, 5-kilometer, and half-marathon distances.

“It is an honor to have Justice Bernstein join our international race and we hope his participation will encourage others to get involved in our many events during race weekend,” said Barbara Bennage, executive director of the Detroit Free Press/TCF Marathon.

Not surprisingly, Bernstein views his participation in a similar light, particularly for those – like him – who face physical challenges.

“Detroit is my favorite marathon, chiefly because organizers have made it the most inclusive event of its kind,” Bernstein said.

“They have made it their mission to encourage those with special needs to participate. They celebrate that fact and I’m sure that is why the marathon has continued to be so popular.”

In the meantime, Bernstein remains “on the move” as he tackles a taxing legal schedule where 12- to 15-hour workdays are commonplace.

“What might take you one hour to accomplish takes me five hours because of how I learn due to my blindness,” Bernstein explained. “The way I absorb cases is by internalizing and memorizing them. It is the way I process matters.”

Much of that work will be done while he is walking daily along a prescribed route “where I know practically every crack, crevice, and curve in the sidewalk,” said Bernstein, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Michigan who earned his law degree from Northwestern University.

“Today, for instance, I began my day at 6:30 (a.m.) and walked for seven hours, talking by phone with my law clerks and other staff members about the 20 cases that the entire court will be considering in conference the next day,” Bernstein said. “I walked 20 miles during that time of multi-tasking.”

Come October 20th, Bernstein is confident his commitment to proper training will “pay dividends” for a marathoner who has even gone the distance in an Ironman Triathlon, an event that features a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run.

“I have no illusions that I will run fast or set any records,” said Bernstein. “All I want to do is finish, and to show myself and others that pain can be overcome, no matter how intense it is.

“I truly believe that the experience I have gone through with these injuries has given me a much different perspective on life, and made me more empathetic and understanding of those who face hardships and challenges,” he said. “In that sense, it can only be counted as a blessing.”