28 Feb 15

By Denise Ezekiel

The puppies are eager to say hi!

The puppies are eager to say hi!

In November 2014 my husband Mike and I joined many friends at the Peak Potential Fundraising Dinner. We bid on, and won, an amazing trip to tour the Guiding Eyes facilities in New York!

We chose to go during our daughters’ school break. Part of our package included a dinner at a wonderful restaurant called the Moderne Barn, and an overnight stay at a local hotel. We began our tour at the Canine Development Center in Patterson, NY. A lovely woman named Vikki was our guide. We met a geneticist who taught us that the mommy and daddy dogs are paired up very carefully! Some of the labs and shepherds at Guiding Eyes are specifically breeding dogs. They live with loving families, and the female dogs go the Guiding Eyes only when in heat, or when ready to deliver. The dogs are tested for strength of vision, hearing, muscle tone, skin and fur, cardiac and pulmonary systems and longevity. “Samples” from the male dogs are even flown all over the world to other guide dog facilities to strengthen their population. Mother dogs can have 3-4 litters before they are retired as loving pets.

Jordan makes some new friends.

Jordan makes some new friends.

We got to see some very young pups – some born 12 hours prior! Pups stay with their moms while they are nursing – up to about 6 weeks. While the pups are very young, they are introduced to human interaction. Volunteers come in at all hours to massage them, cuddle them, talk to them.

As soon as the pups can see and walk they are put in play areas with the volunteers to start to get introduced to sights and sounds and textures and distractions. Little cloth ribbons are even placed around their abdomens to get them used to the feel of a harness!

At around 8 weeks the pups are weaned from their mothers and go into the puppy pre-school! The puppies are now in groups of 2-3 instead of their larger litters to get them used to more independence. Here they start to work with trainers again in big playpens filled with stairs, slides, tunnels, grates, noises, fans, etc. Also, soft cloth harnesses are put on dogs that will tolerate them. At feeding time dogs are asked to sit and be still and quiet before being fed. It’s amazing how quickly they respond!

Elizabeth plays with Flyer in "puppy pre-school."

Elizabeth plays with Flyer in “puppy pre-school.”

My daughters Jordan and Elizabeth got to go into the training ring with some adorable shepherds named Flyer and Franz to work on some skills. Dogs at this age are learning how to respond to their name, tackle obstacles, distractions, crawl into tight spaces, etc. It’s a big jungle gym but they don’t realize that it’s puppy school!

Pups who seem willing and able to learn are sent from the Patterson facility to live with loving puppy raising families for the next year or so of their lives. Volunteer families, mostly on the East Coast, live with and love on these dogs 24-7. Here the dogs learn their basic commands of sit, stay, etc. They also attend training classes in groups near their homes and start wearing vests and going into public places.

Once the dogs are about 18 months-2 years old they return to the Guiding Eyes Training Center in Yorktown Heights, NY. Loving raisers must say good-bye to their friends and wish them success in their future! Here is where the second part of our tour commenced. We were greeted by Michelle, who was an amazing hostess, and treated us to lunch in the facility. We were also introduced to Tom Panek, President of Guiding Eyes, and his guide, Gus.

The Ezekiel family poses with Wrangler, who is training with the Today Show staff.

The Ezekiel family poses with Wrangler, who is training with the Today Show staff.

At the end of our lunch we had a wonderful surprise, celebrity pup Wrangler was in the building! Wrangler is in puppy training with the Today Show staff and his handler, Saxson. He was adorable and posed with us!

After lunch we met senior trainer, Melinda, and dog in training, Janice. Melinda demonstrated to us Janice learning how to identify a chair. These dogs learn hundreds of words and commands in their training.

The next exciting part of our afternoon was actually being blindfolded and being guided by 2 other dogs in training, Jockey and Anniken. Both are soon to graduate. We walked outside on a path and it was frightening and exhilarating! The dogs will stop to notify you of any change – a curb, a crosswalk, the sound of a car. It was scary for us just being on a safe path, so to imagine the trust put into these dogs to navigate a subway or train or city street (or mountain!) is mind-boggling to me.

The Ezekiels were blindfolded and led around outside by Jockey and Anniken, two dogs in training.

The Ezekiels were blindfolded and led around outside by Jockey and Anniken, two dogs in training.

Guiding Eyes raises about 500 dogs per year, and approximately 150 are placed as Guides for the blind or visually impaired. The dogs who do not pass the strict exams (or as we were told, choose a different career!) are sometimes trained as police/military dogs, autism service dogs, breeding dogs, or adopted out to their puppy raisers or another loving family.

Approximately 10-12 dogs per month graduate from the stringent guide program and are matched to students like Randy. Students come to the Patterson facility and live in dorms with their new dogs for about 3 weeks while undergoing intensive training and getting to know each other. Sometimes, experienced handlers, like Randy, will have the dog delivered to their home for the intensive training. The lifestyle of the handler is matched very carefully to the temperament of the dog. Some dogs are better suited for the city than others, for example. Some, like Autumn, are little spitfires that like adventure! Handlers must be able to provide exercise daily for their dogs and of course veterinary care.

When all is said and done, it costs about $45,000 to raise one dog! Blind humans do not pay for their dogs – they are gifted by Guiding Eyes. All money that is used to support the raising and training of the guide dogs comes from fundraising and donations. Once dogs reach retirement, their handlers are given first choice of adoption, then their puppy raisers, or another family on a very long wait list.

All of the facilities at Guiding Eyes were impeccably clean and warm and filled with loving staff and volunteers from the birth to training to retirement of these dogs. It was an amazing, eye-opening life experience for our family. We appreciate what we have, and appreciate all that goes into training Guide Dogs so that others may have a more independent, fulfilling life.

Thanks to Randy, 2020 Vision Quest and to the staff at Guiding Eyes for all that you do!

Denise, Michael, Jordan, and Elizabeth Ezekiel

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21 Feb 15

By Randy Pierce

The recent tragic death of a young hiker in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains highlights the importance of risk management. In my presentations, I frequently attempt to address the notions of Risk vs. Reward as well as ways to evaluate and manipulate both risk and reward in our world. As a blind adventurer, these are important skills for me to develop. I often emphasize my desire to be a problem solver rather than a risk taker, despite my understanding that risk is rarely removed from even our most common activities–rather, we can try to minimize it to enhance the safety and enjoyment.

Randy presents to students at UNH.

Randy presents to students at UNH.

The concept of “Social Risk Management” is an all too rarely considered but highly powerful part of our every day interactions. Speaking at the University of New Hampshire course for Professor Brent Bell, I had the chance to explore this notion in a bit more depth. In most of our social interactions with strangers and even friends, there is an element of risk to our approach. Might we say the wrong thing and feel foolish, ignorant, or any of the many negative emotions which could arise from others’ response to our outreach? While there’s value to considering our approach to avoid unintended detriment, there is also value in finding the comfort to be ourselves and express ourselves. Understanding the many diverse social expectations takes time and exploration, especially early in relationships when those feelings of risk and caution are higher.

This caution is also a natural response for people who encounter something outside of their notions of typical. My blindness often falls into this “atypical” categorization, and as such silence is all too often people’s response as they worry how their words might offend me or even whether my blindness takes away too much of our commonality for easy communication. It’s amazing how quickly conversation eases this. Ultimately, we realize we are all people and that as humans we have vastly more in common than we have different. I find that the easiest approach is for me to reach out first because communication is an excellent way to help lower the feelings of risk and to develop comfort.

Our "potent" New England winter.

Our “potent” New England winter.

In this particularly potent winter, it’s a little amusing to realize that “ice breakers” are often what we need. My Dog Guide Autumn often serves as such an excellent ice breaker and conversation starter. “What a beautiful dog!” people will say. “What breed is she?” For others it may be as simple as an inquiry on the weather. It’s not that we are all infatuated with weather–it’s simply a low investment and low risk outreach. A gruff response can be interpreted as a person’s weariness of shoveling rather than feelings against us personally. Similarly a cheery response is the welcome sign which allows us to know we can stride forward with less risk to more meaningful conversations.

We undertake these social risks, of course, because for the “reward” part in the Risk vs. Reward equation. Growing or enhancing our community can expand so much of our potential that it is a very worthy reward and also a topic worthy of another more in-depth blog in the future. Of course, in simply writing this blog I’ve taken some social risks and your response to it will be a sign of the very reward I’m suggesting!

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14 Feb 15

By Randy Pierce

“People glorify all sorts of bravery except the bravery they might show on behalf of their nearest neighbors.”
– George Eliot

Ice and snow at the Pierce house after a recent storm.

Ice and snow at the Pierce house after a recent storm.

One of the most snow-laden winters on record is presently burying our little corner of the country. When there is this much snow, it becomes more challenging to clear driveways with banks over your heads. It also becomes more essential to clear roofs and do other work not common to the typical winter for us. People are tired and discouraged as more storms and more work continue to be a part of the routine.

Yet in the midst of this we find everyday heroes among us. For Tracy, Autumn, and me, this includes two separate but close families who live across the street. It is a rare snowstorm in which we don’t have one or both of them in our driveway with a snow blower–often without our knowing which one came to the rescue–simply because they are the helpful, caring, and kind people who so often find the motivation to do just a little more for others.

When I posted the above picture on my personal Facebook page recently, it was to capture the depth of snow and ice which was invading our home and to mark it before I began the process of clearing the ice and snow from the roofs – a project I would never finish as the neighbors descended in force and worked tirelessly with an invigorating good-humored laughter central to the work. I’ll spare their names for this public blog but suffice it to say they have earned our appreciation and tremendous thanks so many times over that the above quote fits so very well.

“Good fences make good neighbors.” – Robert Frost

While the New England poet’s words have garnered more fame than the heroic quote I opened the blog with, I think the fundamental part of New England community and strength is knowing when to come together in support. We may not raise a lot of barns together in this day and age, but our opportunities to positively influence those around us is simply tremendous. Learning to cross the lines all too often used to divide us is such a worthy approach. My friend Court Crandall took it a step further in his TEDx talk “Creating the Lines Which Unite Us”. I’m just thankful for the great people who choose to do heroic things great and small to show the positive power of community–people like our neighbors, and people like all of us if we so choose.

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7 Feb 15

By Randy Pierce

“Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.” – Barry Finlay

Group shot on Franconia Notch

Group shot on Franconia Notch.

Our rather epic adventure to summit the tallest standalone mountain in the world should become reality this year. We have assembled a team of 10 friends to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in September 2015. January 30 brought 8 of the team together for a practice hike in the frigid Franconia Notch.

Originally we hoped the steady steeps of Mt. Lafayette would be excellent work and the views a worthy celebration, but as temperatures began to drop and wind speeds began to rise we adjusted plans to avoid the 2 miles above tree line in dangerous conditions. Hiking just across the notch Lonesome Lake trail and the Kinsman Mountains allowed for more sheltered work which would still have team building challenge and experience. As we assembled by the trailhead, the lowest temperature noted dropped all the way to -8 along with winds to make it more challenging still. This was below the range of our comfort and we expected the hike might be curtailed yet chose to at least work towards the well traveled trail up to the frozen tarn.

Frost-covered Tracy looks at the camera and takes the lead.

Frost-covered Tracy takes the lead!

Tracy took the lead quickly so we could begin keeping warm with the exertions, but many snow drifts quickly had her stopping to don her snowshoes. The long legs of Rob and Randy stayed with micro-spikes to the start of the tree-sheltered incline which made the trail more packed from the frequent daily trips to the AMC hut. This also eased the worst of the wind chills and we all came together along the trail enjoying the beauty of the snowscape and mountain escape.

Autumn guided me with enthusiasm to be working and moving. Pups and people were fine in motion but every stop brought a uncomfortable chill for both Dina and Autumn, the two dogs on the trip. Worse, Dina’s furry paws kept binding snowballs and neither her boots nor the musher’s wax seemed to be helping her.

Rob and Randy cross the bridge.

Rob and Randy cross the bridge.

Thus just before reaching the lake, Michelle turned around and the group consensus suggested that Lonesome Lake would be our turn around point as well. Those few who braved the gusty Arctic chill of the winds on the lake did so mostly to appreciate temperatures well below what we are ever likely to experience during our African journey. We all then headed down with Autumn and me managing much of the down on our own, knowing we had Cat and Tracy ahead of us and the main crew of Rob, Greg, Frank, and Cathy not too far behind. It was a fun part of our trip to work the trail entirely on our own. Once caught up though Rob Webber took over guiding to help us make a faster return to the warmth below. While vastly shortened as a hike, it allowed us to explore the group dynamic for making decisions and supporting each other in fairly difficult conditions.

We spent the rest of the day together feasting, planning the final timing for our travel, Safari, and just having fun. Whether it was a teaser to some of the deeper questions and answers we may share on the trail or the laughter and competition of Catch Phrase, it was quickly apparent that the friendship held by some quickly led to a warm and welcoming friendship for all to share. It’s just over six months away, but it finally feels like the real beginning to our journey together has arrived. We’ve set the next date for a little hike and hang out work. I’m excited to bring the full team steadily together and make the dream a reality. Thank you to the entire Killy Team: Rob, Jose, Greg, Tracy, Michelle, Cathy, Frank, Maureen, and Cat!

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31 Jan 15

By Randy Pierce

Well, aside from those who might ask why a blind man climbs mountains, runs marathons, skis and/or any of the many physical activities I often choose, I am also frequently asked for a better understanding of what is wrong with me medically. Most are aware that my neurological disorder goes beyond my blindness.

A part of the challenge is that I have never received a confirmed diagnosis although I have a speculative suggestion of Mitochondrial Disease which is a catch-all for many disorders most of which are still becoming better understood. Thus far all tests to determine which form might be impacting me have failed to provide answers. I remain an anomaly, but with considerable promise as the field develops and my DNA tests have been expanded.

Initially my optic nerves began to swell and “die” in an episodic fashion. Seven episodes from 1989 to 2000 resulted in  complete optic neuritis. Effectively, the wire between my functional eyes and my brain no longer works. In 2003,  another episode caused damage to my cerebellum, or the balance center, and resulted in me spending nearly two years in a wheelchair. Two separate experimental approaches which included six simple surgical procedures and thousands of hours of physical therapy led to me walking again.

Yet another episode in 2012 assaulted the peripheral nerves of my legs/feet and arms/hands. This reduction in sensation is the final confirmed aspect of this still undetermined condition. The combination of these challenges has created many difficulties but the motivation for me remains in how many problem-solving approaches have enabled me to keep striving for achievements which I find rewarding.

In the day-to-day approach to life there are a couple of additional side affects which are notable in how they can impact me – sometimes literally. I am more prone to hitting my head and have experienced more than my share of concussions as a result. If I’m not attentive and concentrating sufficiently, even the most simple task of bending down in the kitchen to pick something off the floor can result in hitting my head on the counter rather forcefully.

Complicating this is that a person with no light perception often experiences another condition called “non-24-hour sleep-wake disorder,” as the body clock struggles to allow normal sleeping without the adjustments of daylight. While there is a treatment with some success for me, a drug called Hetlioz, low sleep, the many bumps and bruises and perhaps part of my base condition result in a higher occurrence of migraines. These can range from totally disabling me to making anything I attempt very difficult with a reduction in focus, causing more risk to any activities I undertake.

This is rather a lot to take at times and without question I have times when I am frustrated by the results of any of these difficulties. Ultimately though I’ve long ago taken the approach of attempting everything reasonable to reduce my risk and promote my general well being. I accept the days which restrict me and try to find the balance between appropriately challenging myself and giving myself the rest needed to ensure I can return to striding forward sooner. The amount I am regularly able to manage athletically, personally, and professionally inspires me to understand that much success and many great things are still possible. With that lesson my general emotional well being rarely struggles too much and results in the generally positive approach for which I’m occasionally called to question. So while there is no overlapping message here nor, I hope, is this a complaint session on my part. I do hope for those who wanted just a little more insight into what’s wrong with me to have a better understanding.

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24 Jan 15

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Jose enthusiastically posing before the Superdome in New Orleans February 3, 2002

Randy and Jose enthusiastically posing before the Superdome in New Orleans February 3, 2002.

I have been a passionate supporter of both the New England Patriots and football in general, a sport which I’ve found to be tremendously entertaining for many years. I appreciate the pauses in play for socialization and strategizing as well as the drama of setting the personnel and formation for the physically intense moments involved in every play. Athletes of many abilities bring together brute strength, speed, agility, and intelligence with incredible athleticism and skill.

As a blind man, it lends very well to description and the weekly pace allows me to fully invest in the entertainment of it without unreasonable impact on the rest of my life goals. The Sports Emmy Award Nominated HBO Inside the NFL Fan Life documentary on me showcases that rather well.

As I should be excitedly preparing for the team’s competition in Superbowl 49, the talk has been of “Deflate-Gate” and general allegations of cheating. I take my integrity very seriously and that of those with whom I associate, as well as the integrity of a team/sport which I support as a season ticket holder and very passionate fan. After years of below mediocrity, the team’s rise to prominence was matched with my own fortunate naming as the Fan of the Year for their first Superbowl Season and the NFL award as the Ultimate Patriot Fan that same year.

Such success has brought some level of doubt, suspicion, and mistrust at times for the Patriots. I can relate, as I’ve had my blindness called into question after some successful endeavors and it is frustrating to me that for some it is easier to justify our own perceptions of failure by finding fault with any who succeed. That isn’t entirely the case in all things, to be clear, but it is a too often disappointing phenomenon. The Patriots brought this upon themselves when “Spygate” in 2007 showed they had violated a rule, albeit one of questionable impact. They were punished severely, and from that day forth earned to some extent the accusations and allegations which would falsely follow them for every success.

This has had a not inconsiderable impact upon my enjoyment which is at the heart of any entertainment source. Once again this year that has emerged as a theme, and while the results are not finalized at the time of this writing I have significant reasons to be hopeful my comfort with the team may remain.

What I do know is that I do not blindly  or mindlessly follow the team and sport. Ray Rice and Ray Lewis abominations matter to me. Player safety and the league’s continued lip service to real change matters to me. Integrity matters to me and the escalating costs of corporate-level financing replacing fan support matters to me. I love to join my many friends in shared excitement during a Sunday afternoon contest. I respect the players’ hard work, skill, determination and teamwork to bring victories or occasionally defeat.

I hope that can continue because that is the root of what I chose to pursue as a fan. When the mismanagement of the league or team shifts too far I must shift with it for my comfort and I will make the right choices for me in such things. I hope and want to believe better management and a better approach is just ahead to keep this entertainment a valued part of my life. While I respect the choices and opinions of those who feel differently, I hope they do so with a reasonable amount of thought, facts, and consideration for the process with which they communicate their concerns and frustrations. It is ultimately in this communication where too many things go needlessly awry.

Go Pats!
Randy
FOTY 2001

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17 Jan 15

By Randy Pierce

One of the most rewarding and impactful aspects of 2020 Vision Quest is our School Educational Program. On Tuesday, January 13, I had the pleasure of visiting the John F. Ryan and the Louse Davy Trahan Elementary Schools in Tewksbury, MA.  As I listened to the school announcements prior to our presentation at the Ryan School, I heard their PA announce, “Believe in PAWSibility – Woof” and knew our message was already resonating with these fifth and sixth grade students.

I was happy to share many messages with them including my own more backward A-B-C approach: “Conceive – Believe – Achieve.” Their insightful questions allowed us to cover many topics, with teamwork resonating perhaps strongest of all.

My afternoon in Tewksbury brought me to the Trahan school where a teacher’s request enabled us to showcase an Autumn-style language lesson. They wanted me to walk around the cafeteria in which we were presenting such that all of the students could get a quality look at how Harness Guide work is accomplished. This was a simple request, but in order to have Autumn walk in a loop around the entire room I needed to give Autumn a target destination. The only thing which stood out visually to the teacher was a window and I’d never taught Autumn the word window. She knows door, stair, elevator, car, left, right and many other words, but not window. So for these third and fourth graders, it was time to teach her.

This is done with a powerful teaching tool given to us by the Guiding Eyes for the Blind trainers. When I make my hand into a fist and say the word “Touch” she is trained to enthusiastically push her muzzle to my hand quickly. My job is to give her an immediate “Yes!” exaltation and follow it with a treat. By repeating this with my hand against an object I want her to learn, she begins to associate that object with what comes next.

In this case, “Touch window” was repeated with the muzzle nuzzle and reward. After a few times, the first remained but the word touch was removed such that window was now the direct association with the object. Presto! Suddenly Autumn had learned a new word, and when I said “Find the window,” she navigated me directly to it. When I said “Find my chair,” she returned me to the place from which we began. It was a wonderful lesson on my girl’s ever growing vocabulary and let the students see her enthusiasm for learning – something she has in common with many students at our school presentations.

We are proud to have presented to over 36,000 students since founding 2020 Vision Quest in 2010 and count on reaching many more! If you would like to learn more about our education program, please visit our school education page and/or reach out to us at education@2020visionquest.org.

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10 Jan 15

By Randy Pierce

“Going blind is much harder than being blind.” 

Most of us learn to depend extensively upon our sight. When that begins to fail us to any amount, it can be mildly challenging to completely overwhelming. It is very common for denial to be amongst the earliest and strongest responses. It is both sad and frustrating to know this denial often inhibits the most helpful approaches to address these challenges offered by those with the benefit of experience and education which has likely solved these difficulties many times over.

I’m still amazed at how many people contact me because they or someone they care about are facing some level of vision loss and don’t know how to approach it. I’m delighted for the contact and chance to offer support and resources. But prior to going blind, I’d have never realized what a significant number of people are challenged with significant vision loss–it’s all too often an invisible malady. As such, I wanted to suggest a few thoughtful approaches for you or anyone you know who may be experiencing any amount of vision loss.

Please especially consider that the number one cause of blindness is “age-related macular degeneration” and it is very likely impacting people you know. Remember also that “blindness” is a term often feared as part of the denial because it is the extreme case of visual impairment. Help is beneficial and available for those encountering any amount of life impacting vision loss.

First and foremost, use the benefit of a knowledgeable and capable medical world to take the best care of you and your eyes. My ophthalmologist at Nashua Eye Associates made fantastic choices and in conjunction with my neural ophthalmologists likely helped me preserve my sight for 11 years after my medical condition struck. Do everything reasonable to protect your sight and at the same time explore all the opportunities for how best to utilize the sight you have remaining.

Every state has organizations similar to the NH Association for the Blind. Whether it’s the IRIS Network in Maine, the Mass Association for the Blind or many others, there are organizations who specialize in all aspects of “Low Vision Therapy” that offer tips, tricks, and tools for managing all aspects of your life. Having trouble threading a needle? There’s a tool for that! Trouble with colors – you bet there’s a tool for that. Simply wish to read and enjoy a book or paper as you did most of your life? The right lighted magnifier for your needs is probably available. The trained staff will help you determine the right fit for your situation and even help you with the training and use of those approaches.

So if you are in or near New Hampshire, I strongly encourage that first call to the New Hampshire Association for the Blind at 603-224-4039. A quick email or google search will undoubtedly help you find the right organization near you otherwise. They’ll have some immediate recommendations available and more extensive possibilities certain to ensure your possibilities are as limitless as your willingness to conceive, believe, and achieve!

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3 Jan 15

By Randy Pierce

Randy, Tracy, and Autumn wish you a happy year ahead from the Golden Gate Bridge.

Randy, Tracy, and Autumn wish you a happy year ahead from the Golden Gate Bridge.

AULD LANG SYNE (English Translation)

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot, and days of long ago?

CHORUS:
For days of long ago, my dear, for days of long ago,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for days of long ago.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup! and surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for days of long ago.

CHORUS

We two have run about the slopes, and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot, since days of long ago.

CHORUS

We two have paddled in the stream, from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared since days of long ago.

CHORUS

And there’s a hand my trusty friend! And give me a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught, for days of long ago.

CHORUS

For me, the heart of the New Year is not in the resolutions but in the reflections and looking ahead. My years are so very full of meaning and the pace often just a bit too unrelenting for the full measure of both of those things which surges to me around January’s arrival. I’ll take a short tour of the 2020 Vision Quest year past and thoughts of 2015 ahead.

Last January’s tragic loss of the Mighty Quinn resonates still for the loss and for the legacy he left behind. Our first published work is written from his perspective in Pet Tales and has been very well received. Our #Miles4Quinn has encouraged many thousands of healthy miles and both Randy and Tracy completed their first marathons in his honor.

Autumn arrived to ease some of the pain and bring her own joy and talents into our world. Her boundless joy continues to uplift our spirits every day as our bond and teamwork continues to grow.

We continued to experience mountain climbing although running goals were a primary feature. From our pioneer work on a Tuff Mudder to a B1 National Marathon Championship, there were many accomplishments. The NH Magazine “It List”, a TEDx Talk, and the strengthening of our board and staff all highlight a year of many positive strides. I think, as always, that the 34,000 students we’ve reached with our presentations remains one of the strongest aspects of our year and mission.

The promise we seek in 2015 is to bring out our best efforts and hopefully encourage and inspire others to do similarly. Winter training is leading towards readiness for the Boston Marathon. Summer’s training is towards the trip to Tanzania and our goal to reach our highest peak at the top of the world’s tallest stand alone mountain: Kilimanjaro!

Along the way we hope to bring our total students to well above 50,000 and continue our corporate presentations which may enable us to support Guiding Eyes and the NH Association for the Blind in the best fashion they both deserve from us.

At the heart of everything we do is our hopeful intent to tend the people of our community. These wonderful friends old and new are the foundation of hope and happiness for all that will come in the future and the not so secret means to saver every present moment.

Happy New Year to you all!

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20 Dec 14

By Arielle Zionts

I am a recent graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, ME. Over 15 weeks, Salt students study and make videos and multimedia. They also each chose to focus in writing, photography, or radio. Rather than focusing on pure reporting, Salt teaches narrative, documentary, and story-based work. Our stories have a beginning, middle, and an end. They have tension or a conflict that is either resolved or being addressed.

I was struggling to find a topic for my second radio story so I googled “miniature guide horse in Maine.” I thought it would be interesting to do a story about someone who uses a guide horse instead of a guide dog. However, Randy’s website appeared in my search results and I began to read about Randy, his dogs, and their adventures. I knew there was a story in Randy and his dogs but I wasn’t sure what it was at first. I was afraid of making a cliché story: man has disability, man pushes limits of disability, listeners feel inspired.

After conversing via e-mail, phone, and text message, conducting two formal interviews, and going on a walk and hike with Randy and Autumn, I knew my story. I was struck by the strength and, to be honest, the adorableness of Randy and Autumn’s relationship. I was also moved when he talked about his former dogs, Quinn and Ostend. My radio story was going to be a relationship story.

In “Guiding Eyes,” Randy’s long-term journey of bonding and training with Autumn is explored and represented through a hiking scene on Pack Monadnock. The story also focuses on the cycle Randy goes through with his guide dogs: getting paired up with a dog, training, working together, death, and repeat.

At Salt’s show opening last week, over 50 people were moved to the point of laughter and tears as they listened to Randy speak about his relationships with his dogs.

To listen to my other radio stories, click here.
To learn more about the Salt Institute, click here.

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