25 Sep 16

By Randy Pierce

Randy and the expedition hiking group on the summit of Kilimanjaro. “’There and Back again’ by Bilbo Baggins” was the alleged epic title of the fictional hero’s epic recording of his own journey from Lord of the Rings. I struggle a bit with the notion because every experience changes us so much that even while it may seem like yesterday, we are so vastly different there is no real return. As if autumn nostalgia wasn’t already powerful enough in my life, the shadow of Kilimanjaro also looms over as I make the return trip in my reflection for the one year anniversary.

For me, it is so often the people which take primary focus and even upon a pillar of the earth that was once again true. The team which stood together on the slopes of that mighty mountain were passionately dedicated to supporting each other and yet we never know until it happens whether we ever will stand together on any similar quest. The commitment to each other, the determination to achieve, the raw emotional sharing, the joy of celebrations and the feeling of absolute certainty we would reunite were powerful and real. Many of us will connect for various adventures and in fact have already throughout the year, but capturing that exact group is a difficult and unlikely reality for most expeditions. Even should we manage it, we all will have changed and so too will our experience together. That seems sad initially but for me we’ve achieved those glorious moments and have them captured in our memories as well as how they have shaped our lives. So I’ll be glad for the reflections even as I plan many future adventures and experiences, hopefully including many or all of the team who touched my life so well in Africa

This day, I will remember September 2015 and the energy and nervous anticipation we shared in Arusha. I’ll smile at our challenges ordering pepperoni pizza, I’ll feel the awe of the real exclamation from those in my van as the first view of the mass of Kilimanjaro came into view. I’ll recall the shift from playful monkey thievery to worry that my friends shared as they noted the monkey making Darwin-like realizations about my blindness and ability to protect my juice boxes! The hopeful eagerness as the rainforest wide and smooth trail of the Machame gate allowed us to hike a little too quickly before “Polley-Polley” eased us to the “Slowly – slowly” we would need. The ever ascending views above the clouds day after day in a world so foreign in both plant and animal life, the cold winds at Shira camp, the ever cheerful and polite porters, “Harris Tweed!”, the impossibly distant summit cone illuminated each night by the splendor of a nearly full moon, and a foreign night sky my companions would share with voices filled with marvel and delight. All these and more were common occurrences as was a rotational sharing of guide duties for my ability to trek the trails.

There were struggles and some of us took ill. There was difficult terrain at times and none of us will likely forget how well our team came together for the Baranku Wall! That was our team together in the most health and celebration during the higher climbing I think, but you climb a mountain ultimately for moments near the top. While we did not all reach the summit together, a large contingent did and in weary, oxygen starved, sleep deprived, cold and hungry reality; we touched a point atop the second-largest continent in the world. With the glaciers beside us, the crater of Kibo peak and a horizon more distant than any of us had known from the ground, we experienced something together.

Each of us had different dreams and visions which brought us to that point and likely were touched a little differently by the experience. I do not envision ever standing at that point in the world ever again and yet I know the strength, determination, sacrifice, pain and amazement which are part of that moment and stand within me since then. It is as fresh as yesterday in some ways and as fleeting a memory as something from another life at times. Such is the difficulty I have with trying to hold time in my mind, yet I know if I close my eyes and breathe deeply, I can let my mind slowly wander to that time and place and steadily things become more clear and vivid to me. I can travel there and back again just well enough to keep it all so very real for me and to remind me of the fortune I have in the companions I keep here and there.

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17 Sep 16

By Randy Pierce

Autumn and Randy walking, but with LEGO robots!Stepping in front of the energized auditorium for the kick-off event of the FIRST LEGO League Animal Allies season, Autumn and I were excited for all the possibilities ahead. We were also lost, as our route to the podium had been a little blocked by standing room only and she had taken a rather creative route to get me to the front of the room. We did a little problem solving and made our way there with her managing the obstacles safely if not necessarily the way I might have chosen. There was a lesson right in our very approach to the podium and in our brief 15 minutes we needed to build on the excitement, highlight and connect to the core values of FIRST LEGO League, explain our connection to the project and robot challenge with just a hint of our own core messaging worked into the mix.

This might be a tall order if our core values didn’t align so well already, which speaks volumes to the successful aspects we experience. This is part of the reason sponsor BAE systems first coordinated to invite us to the event as well as having us included as a fundamental part of this year’s international experience. I must admit there was an extra bit of amusement in learning they had created a LEGO version of Autumn for their introductory video which can be found along with the full description of their organization’s approach which has become so successful around the world here. 

This year the emphasis is upon how humans and animals can improve the way we interact to make things better for each of us. The teamwork Autumn and I employ is exceedingly demonstrative of this and that is why we represent a project challenge as well as a robot table challenge component possibility.

FIRST LEGO League uses three approaches to the season of competition:

  • Core Values
  • The Project
  • The Robot Challenge

The project requires the team of students to research a problem, identify a solution, share their solution and present this process and result to a panel of judges. One suggestion made in their video involved the present Dog Guide harness and there are so many other avenues around service dogs or our 2020 Vision Quest which might qualify for such a project. I’ll be interested to see how creative the thousands of teams prove as they progress forward.

Meanwhile, I want to leave you as I left them with this notion of the seven core values. If they learn those core values they will likely perform better in the competition, but if they embrace them as a part of their approach to life, they will not only perform better in the competition, they will also likely find more success in life. The difference is in the investment to truly understand the reasons why each of those values is a benefit to us, our teams and the world around us.

This should be no surprise because most things in life which we deem worthwhile likely deserve more than paying minimal attention to perception rather than full investment. Perception matters, sometimes more than I wish, but the reality behind our approach will always carry a more lasting meaning for us and those with whom we ally. This is the true secret strength behind the bond I share with Autumn and all my Dog Guides and why we reach our “peak potential” so well together! It is why I was glad to partner a bit with first, BAE and FIRST LEGO League because we hope these messages will help guide students to take tomorrow to better and better places.

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11 Sep 16

By Randy Pierce

Your Table is Ready! Join us for Peak Potential 2016.

A leader’s job is not to do the work for others, it’s to help others figure out how to do it themselves, to get things done, and to succeed beyond what they thought possible.
- Simon Sinek

Our Seventh Annual Peak Potential Charity Dinner and Auction is November 12. Although you can buy your tickets up until November 1, we set our personal goal this year to sell out by October 12, a month before the event. We urge you to help us reach this goal!

We accomplish many great things with 2020 Vision Quest’s yearly efforts. Each year’s success is largely based upon the support we receive from you and through your efforts on our behalf. Our team of volunteers, myself included, dedicate much time and effort because we believe in what we are able to achieve with your help and we make every effort possible to be worthy of your support. As the quote above suggests, we believe our school presentations help demonstrate a leadership of hard working, positive-minded achievers, while the organizations we support fiscally provide training and partners to strive further than many thought possible.

Peak Potential is a night to celebrate! We are well on the way to our goals of sponsors and ticket sales but we are not there yet. Help us share our goal of a sell-out–and better still, help us reach this goal by becoming part of our team right now.

We certainly have much to celebrate and more importantly we have so much more we can accomplish with your choice to be part of our team. I know some of you live far away (though there’s always the option to stay at the hotel that evening, as I’m doing). I know for some of you this isn’t the right opportunity and I appreciate the encouragement you share in other ways. I also know that we are over 2/3 of the way to a sell-out and already at numbers that would have sold out all our prior smaller venues. But I have a goal to share the evening with a full room of friends and supporters who will make this year our most successful event, and I’m asking you to help make this possible.

Please take a moment to invite a friend or two, buy a table or a ticket, consider a sponsorship, or consider an item for the auction donation. I have been fortunate to hear from so many how much our mission matters. For many, you won’t have to look far to find the same reports because it is likely we have had a positive impact in the life of someone you know. Come to the event and you will get to understand this and more firsthand.

Join me in spending an evening with a community of outstanding people who want to help others reach for the highest peaks and who provide support for the deepest valleys.

Come to Peak Potential!

 

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3 Sep 16

By Randy Pierce

In a week where Gene Wilder took his final breath, I’ve had plenty of reflections upon the many dreams I choose to pursue. Normally September heralds the arrival of my patriotic passions and while this Sports Emmy award nominated video highlights an approach to life far beyond football appreciation, this year is markedly different for me. I still think there is tremendous value in appreciating the messages I had the opportunity to share with many friends in this great piece by “HBO: Inside the NFL Fan Life view”:

Randy and friends celebrate on game day.

Randy and friends celebrate on game day.

So why is it a little more difficult for me this year? I’m always a fan of the belief that each of us should evaluate the things which are important to us and find the ways to make them part of our lives. As we grow and change, so too may our various pursuits and sometimes we may inadvertently trap ourselves in habits which are no longer as healthy for us as they once felt. Simple momentum may keep us returning beyond the level of commitment we might otherwise choose.

Certainly in my very rewarding life there are difficulties in finding time for all of the interests to which I’d like to give my time. Some of this is part of my distraction but not the primary challenge.

I do still love the strategic aspects of the sport and the social community building interactions with which I can bring people together to appreciate the game day events. I have found too many discrepancies of integrity and transparency on important aspects such as player safety, domestic violence, and even fiscal responsibility. In the challenge to rectify these there is an impact to my overall appreciation, dedication and certainly willingness to give of my time, energy, and limited financial resources towards such an endeavor.

I know I am going to spend many game-day afternoons enthusiastically rooting for my team but I made the decision for the first time to not attend any games live this year. I find myself questioning when any organization is making sufficiently poor choices that I must call into question where future paths will lead. I get nostalgic for all the appreciation of the past and possible lost promise of the future.

For now there’s enough to keep me here and mindful and that is the ultimate message I’m trying to take away from this September. I have the mindfulness and focus to attend my choices and ensure that ultimately I do pursue the passions which are right for me. I truly wish the same for each of you, whether in education, arts, athletics or any of the many wonders which may enhance any of our lives.

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28 Aug 16

On August 29 the 2020 Vision Quest School year begins with a trip to North Country Union High School in Newport, VT which is a travelling stretch for the team. Their theme of “Achievement through Perseverance” seems perfectly matched and we are enthused to begin the core part of our mission. Before undergoing this part of the work though, there was one more August weekend to enjoy. Our good friends Greg and Heather helped us find a delightful nearby nature retreat with incredibly clear waters. We haven’t had the chance to really give Autumn any swimming options and she wasn’t the graceful Olympian her web-pawed heritage might suggest but, there’s much fun in this romping game of water fetch. We thought our blog deserved a light and fun easing out of the dog days of August and hope you agree.

Click on the link below to see the action!

Autumn Tries out Swimming

So head over to our For Educators page and get us scheduled to visit your school because it’s time to get to work!

 

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21 Aug 16

Pete and Randy RunningTwo very different and yet very similar teams are coming together on Friday, September 17th to undertake something  dramatic, certain to challenge each of them beyond their expectations. Each have chosen the “Ultra Version” of Ragnar/Reach the Beach. One of those teams is comprised entirely of runners who are either blind or visually impaired and thus our six member team needs to borrow drivers and run-guides from the other team. This is where my friend Pete Houde’s Coastal Athletic Association Team made their impactful choice. This collaboration between 2020 Vision Quest, Massachusettes Association for the Blind and the Coastal Athletic Association brought the power of partnerships to new heights yet again as this press release highlights!

As mentioned, each team has just six members who will each run six legs of the 200 mile relay in roughly 29 hours. We’ll traverse the hilly terrain from deep in the White Mountains to the sandy shores of Hampton beach, getting food and rest as we can from time in our shared vans. This puts even more pressure upon our guides since two of their team is running and two are driving at all times! Somehow they have to get enough sleep/rest to be sharp eough to run their own miles while providing enough sight support for our running the tricky terrain successfully. There is plenty of challenge to be shared, plenty of human spirit to celebrate and hopefully an increadible accomplishment ahead as we reach for something far more significant than just the beach quest of which I’ve often joked. We reach to see how much can be accomplished by working together, believing in and supporting each other in this one of a kind epic endurance experience. While you can’t join our team of 12 directly, perhaps you’ll choose to be a part of the larger team as we are always striving to reach for and achieve our peak potential together!

Most of the Group pose before a group run. Missing one pair of sighted and visually impaired.

 

 

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14 Aug 16

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Autumn walk on the sidewalk during her training.Students are often amused when I describe how Autumn has been trained in “intelligent disobedience.” It is the dog guide judgment to determine something is a threat and to disobey a command in order to alert me of a threat or obstacle. If I were to tell her to go forward and there was a flight of stairs or a curb in front of me she would refuse because my striding out could very easily lead to a tumble. Instead she halts directly in front of the obstacle and refuses to proceed with the command until I show her I understand the problem by acknowledging with a tap of it either with my foot (for the curb) or my hand (for a high branch). She may also wait until a threat has passed such as a silent electric car. The key point is her refusal and my part in the process to identify that I understand before we proceed.

For those of you who read last week’s blog on distracted driving, I was asked how I can tell the difference between Autumn doing her job with intelligent disobedience and Autumn being distracted. While some might be shocked to consider that my sweet princess might ever pause to sniff the grass or face off with the rabbit eating the tender grasses of a lawn, the truth is these distractions can happen sometimes. Depending on how attentive *I* am being usually impacts how quickly and efficiently I realize the difference between her distraction and her quality work. The feel of the harness handle tells me when she tips her head down for a sniff and so that is a good reminder for me to give her a verbal correction to keep going and not be distracted.

Despite my best and most consistent efforts, we are occasionally going to have our progress thwarted by her distraction. The very reasonably small number of times this occurs is a testament to the training work which goes into selecting and conditioning these dogs for their job. I’m proud to say that on her typical day Autumn rarely impacts our work together with distraction. While we all have our less than stellar days, I trust her warnings and that trust is rewarded by my safe, independent, and joyous ability to travel the world with my girl.

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6 Aug 16

By Randy Pierce

Emergency personnel attend to Brent Bell and his friend after they were struck by a car while riding a tandem bicycle.

Emergency personnel attend to Brent Bell and his friend after they were struck by a car while riding a tandem bicycle.

Fortunately the title is not quite reality, but there have been several very close calls. I find the world around me increasingly full of distracted people. While I applaud all the healthy undertakings, sometimes I simply do not know how to awaken people from the distractions that occupy the attention at critical times. The judgment to understand when our focus simply should not be divide is essential–and yet more and more I see evidence this judgment is failing.

Recently my good friend Brent Bell was piloting his tandem bicycle with a friend and he was struck by a car. There are very credible reports of the driver looking down at their cell phone as the primary reason for missing the double long bicycle. Both riders were seriously injured and only a bit of luck prevented this from being a fatal accident. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated situation and luck is not always good.

The car with the windshield smashed from the impact of Brent Bell and his friend.

The car with the windshield smashed from the impact of Brent Bell and his friend.

One part of the problem is that it is so easy to take a quick moment of distraction and believe nothing will go wrong. Many times of success will erroneously reinforce that belief. It only takes one moment to validate just how wrong it is and change many lives forever, and even end them.

My friends report witnessing a frightful number of distracted drivers.

Studies suggest distracted driving while texting is more dangerous than driving while under the influence of alcohol and yet that sobering reality is still not sufficient to wake many from the high risk behaviors. How can I possibly hope to do so with this blog? I’ll settle for every saved glance as a possible saved life and build from there – with your help.

Autumn is a wonderful guide for me and I’ve learned that one of her largest challenges is distraction. If I keep her focus I know she’ll keep me safe and on course. I’ve also learned that once distracted I’ll have to work much harder to break her from the distraction and restore us to safety. She isn’t a bad dog or bad guide. She, like many out there, is susceptible to the enticements of distraction.

Similarly, people driving while off in a world of their own distraction are not necessarily bad people. They may inadvertently bring about incredible frustration, or mild or even fatal harm to others as a result of this. Most would be disappointed or devastated to realize that if only they could be made aware in advance in a healthy manner.

So whether you are playing Pokémon GO on foot, tuning the radio, tending your crying child in the car seat, or thinking about that text, think about how much more important it is for you to be fully present in your activity for all the lives you might impact, potentially literally, otherwise. I hope to never write the title of this blog and mean it, but the odds say it’s only a matter of time without all of us making efforts of mindfulness personally and calling on those we know to do the same.

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30 Jul 16

By Randy Pierce

Randy sitting on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro at sunrise, thinking about what's next.

Randy sitting on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro at sunrise, thinking about what’s next.

I ask myself “what’s next?” often in part because despite my lack of sight, I do like to spend more time looking forward than back. I try not to get caught in a trap of devising grandiose depths of challenge to compare to prior challenges. Rather, I think about what inspires me for the present moment of my life. Let’s face it, Kilimanjaro was quite the experience last September and from Tough Mudder to TEDx talk I have plenty of experiences to savor already.

The year has been somewhat laden with medical challenges which we are still exploring and attempting to properly address. I’m excited to have achieved the freedom to return to so many of my training activities in very reasonable condition for them. So as August 2016 arrives, I’ve put three endurance goals into my autumn sights. Training has begun for all three and that’s quest enough for the short-term accompaniment to the work of 2020 Vision Quest, Lions, and life.

First up is a collaboration I hope to announce in more detail next week, but we’ve assembled an all visually impaired team to undertake an ultimate running relay called “Ragnar” or “Reach the Beach” in which with the help of our guide team, we will run from Cannon Mountain to Hampton Beach as a massive relay effort. I’ll be logging nearly 40 miles for my part in that. Pete Houde is my guide and inspiration for the undertaking.

A second quest reunites me with Brent Bell as we return for another century “tandem” bicycle ride, although rumors abound about whether we may turn the NH Seacoast Century ride into a triplet and celebrate in style.

My final quest takes me into October and allows me the opportunity to complete the Bay State Marathon which I departed at roughly mile 23 just two years ago. I hope to use this to earn my Boston Marathon qualifier as well. With better health ahead, I hope to continue my Boston Marathon streak in the future with the more solid ability I had my my first year instead of the determination and perseverance (but more health-related obstacles) highlighted by Jose and my efforts last April.

Training has already been silently underway. August training will ramp up and September and October will become interesting opportunities to return to some of the adventures which are so often a part of this 2020 Vision Quest. I hope you’ll be a partner in some way in our adventures ahead!

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23 Jul 16

By Randy Pierce

Randy behind white canes, representing barsDespite all I’ve learned and achieved, there are still days I allow myself to be a prisoner of my blindness. Coming from the state of NH with the motto ”Live Free or Die” brought the imagery to the right playfully to mind even as the feeling of being restricted in many aspects of life is very real for most of us at one time or another. It is easy to see how I might let blindness trap me because it does make some things more challenging and it provides a ready-made excuse which many are more than willing to embrace or, at times, even attempt to force upon me.

I’ve long understood and espoused the idea that problem solving is a key to escape such chains. Frequently, I share how positive the experiences of prior problem-solvers can be for this–in my case, the knowledge and training of the New Hampshire Association for the Blind for my sight-related challenges.

What about the more perilous prison of drifting unaware into prisons crafted by ourselves or others? This could be as distracting as the excuses we embrace or the unhelpful habits which creep upon us. How many of us chain ourselves to Facebook, computers, or cell phones? There’s a fine line between having a tool we use to enrich our life and having a tool which uses us to trap us unwittingly.

The key here is learning to take opportunities to open our eyes and minds into a more broad awareness of our lives. It’s taking the time for mindful introspection on a regular basis and realizing where we might not be satisfied with choices which have become habit. It’s making the choice to stop the behaviors which trap us. It isn’t easy and sometimes it’s easier to supplant it with something healthier until a new and better habit is formed in place of the prior.

Ultimately, the key is that regular exploration of awareness to keep taking control of our lives and making the adjustments which let us out of our prisons.

Despite all these thoughts I still find myself behind the bars of my canes, at least metaphorically, on occasion. Expecting perfection is probably setting rather unrealistic expectations. I’ll strive for it and be as gently forgiving when I slip even as I start looking for my keys to make it better right away. I think as part of that reflection I’ll keep the first half of my state motto as the primary goal and wish that for all of you as well: “Live Free!”

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