Marty Kurth became the head baseball coach at Le Mars Gehlen in western Iowa in 1987, at age 21. He's held the job ever since. However, much has changed for this ultra-successful coach in the last year. Kurth knew that, due to family history, he might someday be struck by blindness. However, he would've never guessed it would happen as quickly as it has.

During Senior Night last month, players from every one of his 31 teams returned for a special night honoring the man who's won a pair of state titles, more than 500 games, and was twice named Iowa's coach of the year. When Kurth turned around to all the players who'd returned to honor him, he could just see the color of their shirts. They were only about 40 feet away.

Marty's dad went blind in both eyes. The cause was never known. His sister, Cheri, also lost vision in both eyes due to nonarteritic ischemic optic neuropathy. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, "it is caused when blood does not flow properly to the eye’s optic nerve." Marty believes his father had the same condition. He knew it could happen to him.

One morning last July, Marty lost the vision in his left eye. While brushing his teeth, he closed his right eye and could see nothing. It was nearly a decade before his sister lost sight in both eyes, but Marty wouldn't have that much time. Not even close. Last month, only 11 months later, he started to lose sight in his right eye. Since Kurth suffers from another condition, injections that might help the problem were ruled out. Doctors told him there was nothing they could do.

That same night, Marty coached his high school baseball team. The next week, he gathered his players to share the harsh reality. He told the Des Moines Register what he said:

Fellas, I can’t see you. I know you’re all sitting in the dugout, but I can’t see you. I’m going to be all right. This team’s going to be all right.”

He's had to have help coaching the team this summer, but has continued on. Saturday night, Le Mars Gehlen lost to West Sioux. That ended their season just two wins from the state tournament.

Though he hasn't made it official, Marty's coaching career is likely over. He feels blessed to have had baseball such a huge part of his life for more than three decades:

You can learn a lot about life ... (from) baseball. Not everything goes your way all the time. ... How you handle that shows the character of a man. It's been tough, I'm not going to lie. There's a lot of things that happened this season. A lot of it's been good. There's been some bad. There's been some misfortune. But all through it, the one thing that's been constant is baseball."


[Des Moines Register, American Academy of Ophthalmology, and Le Mars Sentinel]