Archives - May, 2012



28 May 12

By Randy Pierce

“While the optimist, pessimist and realist were debating the fullness of the glass, the opportunist snuck in and drank it!”
- Anonymous

Quinn was as enthusiastic about a hike as I’ve ever known. After our success on all 48 4,000-footers this winter, perhaps he was growing used to the benefit of the faster pace that winter footing gives my blind hiking and he may have had some slightly different expectations for the start of this new hiking season. On May 19, a picture perfect “blue bird” day at the base of Mt. Jackson in Crawford Notch, our crew began the short but allegedly gnarly footing route of the Jackson-Webster Trail. Quinn’s energy was evident in the harness pull as he guided me up the trails, as comfortable temperatures and an absence of bugs made for ideal walking.

All too quickly the terrain forced Quinn’s eager speed desires into the slow pace required for him to show me every boulder, crack, crevice or root which is significant enough to lead to some harm. It was a dramatic change from our winter experiences atop the smooth blanket of snow. I’ll admit to some dismay at the full ramification of our less practiced return to this type of trail and the particularly challenging footing of non-winter hiking. I even had a few moments to ponder if Quinn was being over-cautious but it seemed clear that most of his alerts were very much necessary and the trail was simply a challenging route of roots and rocks.

As we do on occasions when the terrain suggests that a human guide might be more efficient, I took some of the strain off the Mighty Quinn and capitalized on the benefits of having Rob Webber guide me for the stretch run to the summit scrambles. This complete shift in communication and approach typically allows a little faster travel.

Arriving upon those summit scrambles requires me to use only the verbal guide as my hands and feet explore the trail to work the slightly more technical sections. I recalled how challenging these were on December 25 and relished how much more readily we managed in late spring! It took very few moments before we were all basking in the sun on the summit with an incredible collection of astounding views for the sighted to share. For our picnic feast we had the requisite summit cookies and other delectables which are rarely a part of the winter experience. I was amused to reflect that more time was likely spent on this one summit than all the winter summits combined!

As with every summit though, there is still a full measure of work remaining in the descent. Knowing the downs are more challenging for me we continued with human guides as Rob, Dan, and Robert all shared some of the work of guiding me along the path. While this does involve a lot of communication and concentration, there’s an opportunity for a tremendously impactful teamwork experience. It was again clear to me how challenging I find the footwork on this type of trail! We did finish with Quinn guiding me out the final steps and a great dinner with friends on an outdoor patio nestled in those amazing mountains.

My final reflections brought home the reality and intensity of summer’s challenge as well as the different aspects and powerful rewards to be had when choosing this opportunity. I’ll hike in the winter and I’ll hike in the summer and love the very different experiences. As I put peak #23 for 2020 Vision Quest behind me, I know there’s more than half of the hard work still ahead. Fortunately I’m well aware of the marvels and delights also waiting around every turn of the trail!

Even more fortunate for me, I know there’s plenty of people ready to make the experience better for the camaraderie bursting out of the experience in laughter, conversations, teamwork, blood, sweat and undoubtedly some eventual tears. Thanks to the crew of Tracy, John, Jennifer, Robert, Jen, Justin, Renee, Gary, Rob and super pooches Jackson and Quinn for all being a part of this particular peak! The 2012 season is officially and very successfully underway!

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21 May 12

By Randy Pierce

I’m told that for folks to join in help for a cause, they need to believe in the full measure of the need. They need to be certain how their support will make a difference. I believe that there’s also every reason to make the experience rewarding and fun whenever possible because it helps build a stronger community of support. For my part, I’m willing to give every bit of effort possible to create the opportunity for my friends, my family and my community to help us achieve the needs.

And I have an opportunity for anyone to help fulfill an immediate need. I’m taking on a significant challenge with the 100-mile walk I am doing in a few weeks to raise awareness and support for the cause of vision loss. There are several different ways for folks to lend their support to our efforts–the more the better in every opportunity.

Sign up to Walk with us on Saturday, June 2nd
I urge everyone to sign up for our quest to have 100 people on our team, “2020 Vision Quest – Quinntessentially Blind”, on Saturday June 2 as we walk 3k (less than two miles) from the NHAB Concord, NH office to the State House and back. The cost to join the team is low and includes a barbeque lunch with all of us after the walk. Any and all donations will make a tremendous impact, and the benefit of 100 people showing support is overwhelming. Help us reach that goal and invite others to be part of our team!

May 30: Tandy’s Top Shelf, Concord, NH
On Wednesday, May 30, we will gather at Tandy’s Top Shelf Restaurant at 4:00. With as many supporters as possible, I’ll officially start my 100-mile walk across NH from Concord to Portsmouth, on to Dover, and then back to Concord in time for the 3k walk on the 2nd. We’ll share some footage of our many past experiences and hopefully receive the encouragement needed for the long walk ahead! Tandy’s is providing the food for the June 2nd walk and they will honor us by hosting our send-off as well. For everyone who RSVPs and attends, Tandy’s will give a donation to our walk team. So please consider dropping me an email by Monday, May 28 to let us know you’ll join us there.

May 31: Applebee’s, Portsmouth, NH
On Thursday, May 31, we are touring through Durham and the University of NH as part of our walk in support of how much they have helped us along our journey with 2020 Vision Quest. The first stage of our walk will end at to arrive to Applebee’s in Portsmouth (1464 Woodbury Avenue, Portsmouth, NH 03801) in the evening. Any time during the entire day, present our flyer to your server and 15% of your bill will be donated to our walk team. Upon our arrival, we will feast and share the evening with any who can join us. They will play our videos and there is even a rumor of the Winter Hike Documentary being previewed if all goes well. For a simple night out on Thursday, you can provide significant support to our efforts. I’ll retire on the early side since I have a school presentation the next day, before departing from the NHAB Dover office for the long return walk to NHAB in Concord. Click here for the flyer.

The Need
So what’s the specific need that we are serving? I’m fortunate and proud that thanks to the guidance and training of the New Hampshire Association for the Blind, I was able to take many steps forward into my life as a visually impaired person, as this walk surely symbolizes. The fact is that for 100 years, NHAB has provided life-changing services to thousands upon thousands of people dealing with the reality of vision loss.

There are many misconceptions about the realities of vision loss and often the term “blindness” clouds that image. Those who experience it personally or in the lives of their friends and family can understand that while a healthy and happy life is absolutely possible, for many that won’t become reality without the support of an organization like NHAB. If you want to more fully understand this organization’s impact, I urge you to watch the video created for them to demonstrate their powerful work and catch more than a few glimpses of Quinn and me in the process.

We Need Your Help
Why will I walk 100 miles and plead with folks for support when it isn’t in my natural comfort zone? I know the effects of age-related macular degeneration will increase immensely with as the Baby Boomers population spike grows older. This will tax services in ways we’ve never experienced. I cannot imagine doing less than my best to ensure everyone has the same opportunities I had in handling the challenges ahead for them. I very much need as much support as I can encourage and there is no better time than right now!

I do not ask folks to give of their time, their financial support, or even their simple sharing of this opportunity without my own actions to match. We at 2020 Vision Quest have brought a message of “Achieving through Adversity” and belief in possibility to more than 15,000 students over the last two years. I’ve reached thousands more in non-profit presentations. I and many others in support of our charity have given hundreds of hours of effort because we believe in the need and the approach. I’m asking all of you to share this opportunity and join with us as much as possible and in whatever means is right for you.

I will give my full effort through and through, now and well beyond, and I hope a large part of that is a series of thank you messages to all of those who help make this a success. You already have my thanks for reading this far–now can you do just a little bit more?

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14 May 12

By Randy Pierce

I’ve frequently been asked by some very young students meeting Quinn: “Is that a blind dog?” While that typical question is intended to mean is that a “Guide Dog,” my usual tongue-in-cheek response of “I sure hope not!” takes on an entirely meaning with this week’s surprising and inspiring story.

A young golden retriever named Tanner in Tulsa, OK has been managing the challenges of blindness, seizures, and homelessness after the death of his prior owner in 2010. While being treated for his seizures at an animal hospital, his caregivers saw something incredible. Blair, a homeless black labrador retriever being treated for a gunshot wound, began to try and help Tanner. By picking up Tanner’s leash with his mouth, he would guide Tanner safely around the play area. Tanner had himself a spontaneous Guide Dog.

As often comes with the bond between the blind and their Guide, each began to benefit in a myriad of ways. Beyond the obvious mobility assistance, Tanner’s seizures notably reduced in number. Blair meanwhile began to gain in confidence in his newfound duty and his anxiety reduced as this pair became pals.

The New York Daily News was my first insight into this story. I followed the story to its the source, KTUL.com, and learned that the hopeful adoption for the doggy duo is receiving tremendous attention worldwide. It seems very likely that an ideal home for the pair is imminent. On their journey to that home, they are now “guiding” the way for other homeless animals, inspiring a tremendous boost to dog adoptions all around the country!

Nearing the anniversary of the day I lost my very sighted and excellent guide, Ostend, I am particularly moved by this tale. Ostend was a golden retriever like Tanner and Quinn a labrador like Blair. The notion that Blair could naturally develop the skills for which Quinn was raised and trained is incredible. The demonstration of power in a dog well beyond guide work is something I’ve often realized but never noticed in so powerful a demonstration.

I give my strongest salute to this marvelous canine with whom we are so fortunate to share our world. I hope we are ever striving to be as good to them as they are to us humans.

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7 May 12

By Randy Pierce

There’s an old saying that out of sight is out of mind. The following example is quite the opposite: three organizations have been requiring all legally blind athletes to be completely blinded in order to compete in their events, a decision which is very much in the minds of many.

Since March of 2010, the USA Triathlon, International Triathlon Union, and 3D Racing LLC have installed this ludicrous and hypocritical rule upon the legally blind competitors. They impose and enforce this rule without a single blind individual upon the committee which establishes this approach.

Prior rulings had multiple categories for the varying levels of vision which encompass the blind community. As the number of competitors did not, in their opinion, support these multiple categories, they chose to combine them into one category and then suggest that in the interest of fair play all of the competitors must wear the full occlusion glasses. They have done this at significant risk to all the athletes involved in their competition.

The immediate and primary concern with this ruling is safety. Requiring people who live their lives with partial sight to now undertake a challenging competition with no sight is a very significant risk to the individual and all those around them. The evidence of this is overwhelming, yet it’s two years of complaints later and there is still no change to the process.

The hypocrisy is clear in rules which prohibit wearing of headphones because of the significant risk added in the loss of hearing for competitors, yet they suggest removing any sight from the vast majority of a category. The vast majority of “legally blind” persons have some usable vision–statistics range from 83%-95% of them, depending on the source. People living with a certain amount of sight, however much impacted, will suffer considerable detriment to their safety when forced to lose of all those keys they rely on for normal skills and moreso under the duress of competition.

Besides, this very notion of leveling the playing field actually does no such thing–it creates an advantage to the totally blind individual who has already built up secondary skills to vision for managing such things. Their goal of fairness is removed immediately and to do so it adds an entirely unacceptable and likely illegal risk.

For that latter point, Aaron Scheidies, a visually impaired triathlete, has filed a lawsuit he explains on his youtube video. He is requesting no financial damages and his lawyer is taking the case pro bono as a strong indicator to their real intent.

The simple reality is there are many advantages and disadvantages experienced by all manner of competitors. Some have longer legs, some have better oxygen processing and certainly there is some impact to the training. Ultimately though, there is no way to create an entirely even competition and while attempts to do such may be reasonable if explored thoroughly, these should never jeopardize a reasonable safety, especially when these efforts don’t even produce the results they seek.

Now, as a totally blind runner I do believe anyone with sight of any level may have some advantages over me. I even believe there’s merit to noting the impact of being any level of blind versus fully sighted. I absolutely want the opportunity to compete and remain in full support of the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) protecting reasonable accommodation and full access to events. I similarly acknowledge that if any race attempted to separate every possible and reasonable category of fair play we’d have so many divisions and so many awards we might very well inhibit the existence of the many races which are one of the great experiences of our present world.

So how do we find balance and reasonable compromise to allow all these things? For me, the answer requires that the simple word “reasonable” always be at the root of any decision. In all the many responses by those involved, I have yet to hear one even remotely reasonable justification for putting athletes at risk. I’ve run and competed with full sight through partial sight to total blindness and do so safely in all of those conditions. During the times of transition I was at the most risk and struggled the most to be safe. The real purpose of competition is always to challenge ourselves to be the best we can possibly be and to raise that bar for ourselves. We cannot ever accomplish this when we deliberately and with disregard make people what they are not.

Good luck to Aaron and his cause!

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