Rupe was orphaned by the age of 10 and spent the rest of his childhood in children's homes and boarding schools. He was blind from birth in one eye, and during adolescence the sight in his left eye began to fail. He has been legally blind for some years. He had to abandon the idea of becoming a physical education teacher.
In 1967 he ran his first marathon, and in 1995 his 100th, including races in Boston, New York, Vancouver, Warsaw and Athens, as well as New Zealand.
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