Tag: challenges



25 Mar 18

Group shot at the LA Tough Mudder

Randy poses with his team at the Tough Mudder.

By Randy Pierce

“Give your all, and whenever possible give it with the support of a team you deserve and which deserves you. The rewards will likely be how your life is defined. See obstacles or opportunity, stumbling blocks or stepping stones, but believe you can achieve and you’ll have a vision more powerful than sight!”
– Randy Pierce following the March 28, 2015 L.A. Tough Mudder

We are all going to face our share of obstacles on the path. Will it turn us back, unable or unwilling to achieve for the challenge presented? Will we try, fail, and try again until we reach the goal? Will planning, problem solving, or the helpful guidance of another enable us to learn, grow, or better ourselves enough to overcome the obstacle?

The choice in approach is vastly up to each of us and we’ll experience the result of the choice as powerfully as the obstacle. I’ve always felt there’s a partial frustration in having met an obstacle and a similar frustration in the effort involved to overcome it. Since I’m facing some of the frustration either way, I’ll choose the version which most often results in the eventual jubilant feeling of success. In the process I tend to find an earnest dedication to the problem solving and perseverance often distracts me from the disappointing aspects of the challenge and invigorates me as well.

One of my most epic physical obstacles was out in California for the “King of the Swingers” obstacle featured around the 1:45-minute mark of this short video clip from Oberto’s “Hero of Summer” series. I encourage you to take a moment to remind yourself of a team oriented and determined approach to obstacles.

As we lined up below the platform with my team watching others attempt this incredible leap and swing, I was absolutely intimidated. I understood the difficulty and the large chance for failure. I knew there would be video cameras capturing every aspect of my attempt and reaction to it. I wasn’t aware beforehand that they would stop the other swings so that the entire Mudder Nation surrounding the challenge would be focused upon my attempt. This was an additionally daunting aspect of the obstacle.

I knew those things, understood them, accepted them, and let them go in favor of what I consider a more powerful consideration. By choosing to try, I was already growing and becoming stronger. I learn as much from failures as success if not more. We made a plan to help me orient on the T-bar trapeze. A teammate suggested the brilliant idea to grab the vertical bar instead of the smaller, easily missed, horizontal piece. I’m told my leg launch was a strong enough surge I almost sat on the T-bar. I managed this because I committed fully to the idea of the attempt and that is a strength for me most of the time. A partial commit would have made the first catch and grab of the trapeze weak and more likely to fail. Make the commitment and give it your all to succeed.

Oberto’s motto was: “You get out what you put in.” I find that true of so many things in life and especially our attempt to manage obstacles. If we decide to take the challenge, then give it our best effort and we’ll likely experience our best growth. As for the final release and ringing of the bell, how much of that involved my long arms and a fair bit of luck I’ll never know. I do think we make a fair bit of our own luck by the choices we make. I would not have rung the bell if I had backed away from the challenge and my life would have been missing a ringing success.

That said, I always want to honor the team who made such an incredible experience possible. Thank you Greg, Jose, Loren and Skye! It was an incredible experience and while we can’t ever  quite reproduce the magic of the day, it’s not hard to recall the experience and most especially our incredible teamwork! There’s a line from a stranger in the video and I hear it and love it every time: “Keep moving forward.” And so we shall!

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17 Mar 18

Randy walks a tight rope alongside a mountain.By Randy Pierce

“Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this.”
– Stephen Hawking

In honor and celebration of the incredible life achievements of Stephen Hawking, I chose the above quote to lead this week’s discussion. Communication is a double-edged sword for certain. Like so many tools, it is in the manner of use by which its effect for positive or destructive influence is most commonly achieved.

I prefer to advocate for healthy communication with an equal intent for open minded listening and sharing. To that end, I heard an inordinate amount of praise for his work stated in the rough form of  “he was incredible despite his disability.” I suspect the intent there for most was to denote that without question his disability provided additional challenges which he also seemed to manage with seeming grace, dignity, and success.

The praise I mentioned did not suggest he was a brilliant mind for someone in a wheelchair, which would have a much stronger negative resonance, but it does have a hint of that suggestion, which is why I adjusted the semantics to showcase it. Stephen Hawking was a brilliant person with an incredible legacy. His resolve and perseverance through adversity were similarly admirable and commendable. They are separate statements.

I share this because I often hear two diametrically opposed reactions to various accomplishments in my own life. The first is the often well intentioned but rather limiting expression of: “great achievement for a blind person.” This suggests that as a blind person, I should perhaps be judged by some lesser standard. If the accomplishment is noteworthy and deserving of the commendation, it is received far better without the qualifier.

I obviously understand my blindness does enhance the challenge of many things and there is at times a desire to express that as part of the statement which I’ve heard done effectively many times. It’s a matter of the approach to the words and expression which, to be fair, are likely unique to each situation. I simply suggest that thoughtful choice is valuable in these times.

The second counterpoint is a similarly well intentioned incredulity at the most simple of accomplishments. Frequently, because of a challenge, there may be a desire to set extremely low expectations. As I shared at a recent presentation at LL Bean, after hearing of my hiking experience, marathon running and Tough Mudder undertakings, it is difficult to hear someone express appreciation and awe that I am able to tie my own shoes!

As someone who strives to reach for my peak potential and to encourage similar in others, I want to set expectations higher and reach for them without the mindset of settling as a consideration. Whether by lack of exposure or education to what is a reasonable possibility, those who make such hyperbole of the most modest achievement can leave me feeling insulted even knowing it was likely not their intent. I want to ease my frustration and enhance the communication to address such things through this blog and my direct interaction at the time.

With that spirit in mind I also want to suggest this attitude for all of us facing any challenge and do so with another final quote from the mind who inspired today’s discussion:

“My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.”
- Stephen Hawkins

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12 Mar 18

By Randy Pierce

The first picture of Autumn, Randy's Guide Dog partner, who arrived in Nashua on March 16, 2014.

Here is the first picture of Autumn, Randy’s Guide Dog partner, who arrived in Nashua on March 16, 2014. Happy Anniversary!

It is so easy to celebrate every single day with such a joyous, loving lady as Autumn! She is far and away the most affectionate pup I’ve had the fortune to have in my life and I’m told it is to my benefit that I cannot see the “look” with which she would otherwise put me at her bidding!

March 16 will denote four years of our being matched as a team, which includes not only the wonderful relationship as a great dog but also some pretty solid guide work.

Most dogs love the opportunity to step out for a walk and Autumn is no exception. What makes her and all of our Guide Dogs particularly exceptional, however, is that for them each walk is a true labor of love as well. All the wonderful distractions of the world are mitigated by her training to ensure she tends the responsibilities of keeping me safe.

Thus when a winter Nor’easter named after her predecessor, Quinn, has deposited more than a foot of snow on our roads, things get a little more interesting. As such, I thought this week I would take you on a short half mile audio/video walking tour of Autumn’s work with me. I hope you enjoy as much as I certainly enjoy having this wonderful girl in my life.

Thank you, Autumn, and Happy 4th anniversary!

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25 Feb 18

By Randy Pierce

Autumn reclines in her bed.

Autumn reclines in her bed.

Do you ever have those days where it’s difficult to get out of bed? After my presentations I’m often asked questions that suggest that mine are all as perfect as they seem for my morning-loving Autumn dog! Once I confirm I have as many difficult days as the next person, I’m often asked how I approach those times.

The answer? Momentum! Or more specifically, I build positive momentum as quickly as possible. I share in only half jest the morning complaint: “Come on! Blind again today?” On those mornings I immediately put something different and positive to entice me forward. Maybe it’s a particularly good cup of coffee which wasn’t in the plans. Perhaps a phone call to a good friend to brighten the start of the day or sometimes just an easy accomplishment from my list of goals. The idea is that once I get something positive happening, I feel a bit better and from that improved position it’s easier to put another couple of those immediately into the plans to bolster the progress. It is simply what momentum means.

One source of positivity is to find an inspirational quote or story to help me as I start the day’s tasks. Not too long ago my friend Greg Hallerman shared this powerful video with me and again very recently I found it on LinkedIn when Casey Cheshire shared it. It’s the similar notion of starting your day by making your bed and using that ultimately as the catalyst to change the world. While that seems a bit of a stretch, the messages are powerful and worthy. Better still the delivery by Admiral William McRaven is tremendous and thus I urge all of you to perhaps change your world by taking a few moments to appreciate his powerful message!

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11 Feb 18

By Randy Pierce

Autumn rests on a recent plane trip.

Autumn rests at our feet on a recent plane trip.

Delta Airlines recently announced a new disappointing policy for all animals traveling with them effective March 1, 2018. It creates unreasonable travel restrictions for teams like Autumn and me. Several other airlines are evaluating how to follow suit and I want to credit United Airlines for excluding trained service dogs from these policies.

Specifically, this new policy requires anyone traveling with their animal to download a form from their website, have it filled out by their veterinarian to confirm the animals rabies and similar vaccinations, and then upload this form through the Delta website within 48 hours of traveling.

While this doesn’t seem an inordinate burden for a particular planned flight, it is compounded tremendously by the possibility of unexpected travel on Delta. Airports reroute a traveler due to cancellations and missed connections routinely and if any of these required a new Delta leg, we could become stranded by this policy. Bereavement or emergency travel would obviously be beyond consideration for them and all of this ignores the ability to have stored the form with them or to note that her rabies information is always on her collar. If my journey has multiple airlines and they all have similar policies, I’m getting multiple forms downloaded, printed, out to my vet, home, scanned, uploaded to the various websites for each and every trip. All while knowing any change in plans could leave me stranded anywhere around the country depending on how extensively the draconian Delta policies are adopted! At the very least, these need to be standardized for all airlines to accept the same form for the entirety of any trip!

Why did they make this change? While most of the country operates under the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), airlines operate under the Air Carrier Access Act. In this they have opted to allow a much broader support animal. I do not have the qualifications to know the need or training for all the variations of animals and need in this situation. I do know that under the ADA businesses have been managing a large amount of false service dogs as people choose to forge the process in order to bring their dog where they want.

This problem is only intensified with the broader definition of both need and types of animals allowed. Peacocks, pigs, and tarantulas are all recent animals which may or may not have been legitimate but illustrate the diversity in progress. All this said, it was a non-service dog attack on a flight which likely sparked the most recent change. While the paperwork policy will not add any protection from such attacks, it may provide additional liability benefit. I absolutely acknowledge there is a problem and I want to see a resolution. I believe when Delta chooses to be a Maverick they take the risks of their failings as well.

For now, I want to simply applaud the better choice made by United Airlines than the disappointing choice made by Delta. My personal experience suggests Jet Blue is trending towards a little additional airport paperwork which can be managed at the airport, more in line with United, but still more delays and challenge for me. Trying to discern what all the various rules may be for all the individual airlines is going to make the challenges exponentially more difficult.

There was progress made in an initial conference in 2016, but reports make clear the airlines are having a problem, though it is not with service dogs. I hope the parties making policy would consider bringing a conference of stakeholders together to ensure a more reasoned and consistent policy may be planned and implemented with an expectation of more reasonable results than the risks ahead for Delta leaving customers stranded even after expecting them to take on some unreasonable amount of work.

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3 Feb 18

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Jose at marathonThe enthusiasm for January’s resolutions may have waned and many people find themselves particularly poised for a preponderance of stepping back on all those commitments. Quitting doesn’t call to just our New Year’s Resolutions — it’s something we can face commonly throughout the year and our many undertakings. I don’t even want to count the number of times some of my training runs find me wanting to quit or the frequency with which my schedule feels overwhelming. I suspect most people feel this way frequently. What surprises me is how many times after a presentation someone asks a question which suggests the perspective I don’t feel this way or that I don’t succumb to it. In reality, I stepped off the course at mile 17 in my very last marathon.

I do, however, try to adhere to a few approaches which make it easier to avoid quitting and I’ll share a top five tips with you here for consideration.

  1. Proactive solutions are always the best. As such, when I am adding a new goal or commitment to my life, I frame it as an individual addition with an intentional trial period. The temptation to add multiple things at once can lead me to feel overwhelmed and the resulting drop of all those things together. By adding things individually they can be managed individually, so we are less likely to quit everything and more likely to remove the actual thing that is too much. In fact, we are more likely to detect when we are approaching too much and ease off before we get there.
  2. When I add something, I have a reason for adding it. I actually make a record of the reason I have chosen to add it to my schedule. This speaks to the purpose behind my choice. When I am evaluating removing something, I similarly write my reasons for wanting to remove it and then find my original reasons. I compare those and that helps me determine if I’m “quitting” or making a better life evaluation. If the original reason is still more powerful for doing something, it often renews my motivation to continue.
  3. When I know I don’t want to quit but I’m feeling like quitting or even hearing the voice of my mind trying to tease me into quitting, I mindfully give myself a new and different thought to hold my focus. In the case of running, for example, when I’m tired and I think how good it will feel to stop, I deliberately think about how good it felt to finish previous races, I imagine what the finish of this race will feel like, and I use that distraction of a positive nature to push back the negativity of quitting.
  4. Procrastinate procrastination! By trying to establish a habit of doing the difficult thing right away, I don’t leave myself too much time to consider quitting. I’m busy doing before I can get to thinking about not doing it.
  5. Often I feel we sneak into quitting by having put doing something off multiple times until we’ve established a habit of just not doing it and we have quit almost without intention. My use of a schedule is part of how I evade this trap. I put what needs to be done onto a schedule and while there may be a reason I need to move it or choose not to do it, I refuse to allow myself to not do it until I’ve rescheduled it within my time constraints first. For example, if I have a training run at 8 am and a friend wants to meet me for breakfast, then I either move my run to a time before then, or later that same day when I know I’m free and able to run. I do this before I allow myself to say yes to that friend.

Obviously there are many more practices which any of us can use as strategies to keep us earnest and honest on the things which are important to us. Finding the ones which are effective and sustaining them long enough to make them habit (21 days is often suggested) leads to a more effective method of quitting quitting. Ultimately, nothing will stop us from doing the things we truly want to do — but life sometimes is made better for us by doing things which are important to us and yet we fall victim to less ideal habits which we actually do hope to quit.

 

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28 Jan 18

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Jose head into the Feb 3, 2002 Super Bowl adorned in full "patriotic" regalia

Randy and Jose head into the Feb 3, 2002 Super Bowl adorned in full “patriotic” regalia

Almost everyone I knew and never knew was eager to give me encouragement and congratulations, excited and enthused for my unusual experience as not only the Patriot Fan of the Year but unimaginably announced as a selection for the Ultimate Fan with a plaque to be placed in the Pro-Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. For me, the much supported excitement was entirely focused upon the upcoming Super Bowl competition between the St. Louis Rams (“The Greatest Show on Turf”) and “my” New England Patriots.

I’d recently had a fun on-air radio interview with Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys who, while congratulating me and my team, hoped I was content because we unfortunately had no chance in the game. It is with that perspective I always hope to readily find the appropriate respect and humility to appreciate accomplishment without ever denigrating a challenge. It is also where I put my experiential philosophies to the debate as we went point for point on why I thought there was always reason for hope with a plan and the determination to back it up. Why I felt that teamwork raised the group beyond the individual limitations when managed effectively.

I still recall his final dismissal: “You are a great fan and I respect that, but I’m an NFL player and I think I’ve got a little more credibility — Rams will win.” Undaunted by his unquestioned talent and great humor throughout our work I responded: “Emmitt, I’m already in the Hall of Fame and you still have to wait five years so maybe I have the credibility edge and I still say my team has a chance in this game!” He laughed himself off his chair, conceded the jab if not the game, and we shook hands in appreciation of a fun interview and time well spent.

Randy and Jose at Gilette Stadium in full flag face paint

Randy and Jose at Gillette Stadium in full flag face paint

While the eventual Patriot victory served my point rather well that day, the real points for me are methods of approaching life. There is always possibility if you are willing to problem solve and persevere. It is always reasonable to maintain an appropriate respect for opposition and humility for our own abilities both to succeed or stumble.

I have long loved the sport of football and specifically my New England Patriots. I love the blend of strategy with a myriad and diverse style of athleticism into a team oriented effort. I love the social interactions which are readily encouraged by the stop action nature of the sport as personnel shifts and formations allow for strategy discussion before the flurry of action. I spent decades attending every home game and wearing my fanaticism plainly with the reward of so many moments of friendship and fun along the way.

Football has played many roles in my life and some of those were captured wonderfully in the Sports Emmy Award Nominated Episode of HBO “Inside the NFL Fanlife” which featured my friends and me in a worthy 11 minute video that I encourage you to watch for what it shares well beyond football:

I still love my team today and will be hoping and rooting for their win on February 4, 2018. I know they have been winning at levels so far beyond what I could have ever expected and more than any fan surely deserves. I truly wish the positive fans of every team could understand and experience some of the great rewards I believe my team has brought to me. Of course I want my team to continue to strive for excellence and to win. I candidly miss the long gone days when so many were eager to be positive and encouraging for me and my team as well. The reality is that resentment for our team has grown for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons may be deserved, many are less so.

I too feel concern for how the NFL manages player safety, domestic violence, and a monetary foundation which seems to have lost more focus than I find comfortable. I watch the opportunities for real and positive change to come along and advocate for it in the ways I am best able. Much as I did with Emmitt so long ago, I believe it’s possible and for now continue to enjoy how fortunate I am to enjoy a remarkable team on an incredible run. I recall some of the lessons I learned from this team and how, with a little thought, they might apply to life and hope for those positive aspects to find their way to the forefront again.

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22 Dec 17

By Randy Pierce

Christmas is certainly for all ages, though I admit to the appreciating the special enjoyment it brings to children. In this wonderful Christmas tale, Jonathan Mosen shares an insightful story of Christmas being for people of all abilities. If you visit the link to his story directly you’ll discover audio versions of the story are available and can share feedback directly with the author. Meanwhile with his encouragement to share this story here is his clever and educational Christmas story.

Link to original story here. Reprinted below. 

***

 “Louis, The Blind Christmas Elf”, a Story for Children
- By Jonathan Mosen

A long long time ago, so long ago that even your teacher hadn’t been born yet, so that makes it a really really long time ago, a stylish, shiny elf-driving car pulled into the long driveway at Santa’s busy workshop.

Out of the car stepped Mrs Scott, a smartly-dressed elf wearing a business suit and black patent leather high-heeled shoes.

They made such a loud clop, clop, clop sound on the cobblestones leading to the gingerbread front door of the workshop, that Harold, the chief elf, heard his visitor coming, even over the sound of all the toys being made and packed.

He met Mrs Scott at the door of the workshop, greeting her with a wide smile, a firm handshake and a laugh that was squeaky and high-pitched, yet somehow when you heard it, you could tell it was coming right from his wobbly little tummy. He immediately felt under-dressed in the overalls he was wearing while he was helping out on one of the assembly lines. Yet despite Mrs Scott looking immaculate, and Harold looking decidedly shabby, Harold was the boss, and she had something he needed.

“Come in, come in! You must be from the elf-improvement school,” Harold exclaimed.

Harold ushered Mrs Scott into his office, and one of the kitchen elves was asked to make her a cup of tea. Making all those toys and sorting them for Santa made all the elves hungry like a wolf, so Santa’s workshop had a big kitchen where all kinds of delicious treats were being made for the elves to eat whenever they got hungry.

Mrs Scott had been the director of the School of Elf Improvement for five years, but this was the first time she had visited Santa’s workshop. If elves were ever lucky enough to get a job with Santa, almost no one left. That meant that even though there were many elves graduating every year from the School of Elf Improvement, not many got the ultimate prize, the job of working for Santa.

Mrs Scott was at Santa’s workshop on this day, because Harold had called her late one night on her elf-phone, saying that with more children than ever in the world, they could use a bit more help.

After the tea arrived, and Mrs Scott had sampled some of the delectable fairy cakes from the workshop kitchen, she opened her briefcase and they got down to business.

“As you can appreciate,” she said, “every elf would love to work here at Santa’s workshop, but I know you can only use the cleverest, most capable elves. You have so much to do! So I’ve brought you three elf-assessments to take a look at.”

Mrs Scott took out three beautifully spiral-bound leather folders, with the name of an elf etched in gold on the front cover of each one.

“This is Huey”, she said. “Huey loves building musical instruments. During one of his exams, he built a piano, a clarinet, a huge noisy drum kit, a Didgeridoo, a nose flute and a plinkety plankety, all in under an hour. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Mrs Scott beamed.

“Well now,” said Harold looking impressed, “I’ve heard of most of those things of course, we have lots of them being built in the workshop right now actually, but what’s a plinkety plankety?”

“Oh,” said Mrs Scott, beaming with pride, “it’s a new instrument Huey invented himself! If he doesn’t come to work here, I’m sure he’ll be producing it for one of the big toy companies before the year is out.”

“Hmmm,” said Harold, “he sounds wonderful and would make a great addition to the team I’m sure, but the thing is, we’re not really having any trouble keeping up with musical instruments. Who else do you have?”

“Well,” said Mrs Scott, moving the second leather-bound volume to the top of the pile, “this is Stewy. Now Stewy is a genius at making toy kitchens, and all the things to go in the toy kitchens. Do you know,” she said, getting so excited that she spilled a bit of fairy cake all down her front, so it was just as well that her garments were elf-cleaning, “the other day, Stewy made a toy kitchen with a fridge that really gets cold? But that’s not the half of it. It only works when you put chocolate in the fridge. Put any other food in that thing, and nothing happens. Outstanding piece of work.”

“Very clever,” said Harold, “although I’m not convinced the boys and girls will want a fridge that only keeps one thing cool. And we do have some good engineers here. Still, he’s worth considering. And who is the last elf you wanted to show me?”

“Ah, well,” said Mrs Scott, suddenly looking a little fidgety, “I really wasn’t sure about whether to suggest Louis or not. Louis is special.”

There was something in the way Mrs Scott used the word “special” that immediately peaked Harold’s curiosity.

“What exactly do you mean by special?”

“Well, you see, Louis makes excellent use of his hearing. It’s not that his hearing is better than any of the other elves in the school, it’s just that he tends to take a lot more notice of what he’s hearing. Recently, we were manufacturing a load of ride-on toy tractors for a toy company, and one of the whizimybobs developed a fault!”

“Oh no,” said Harold, understanding exactly how serious a matter this was. “You get a problem with one of your whizimybobs and it can really set you back. Actually we had a fault with one of our whizimybobs here at Santa’s workshop last Christmas. It stopped a lot of our production for a week because no one picked up on it, and we nearly had to cancel Santa’s delivery altogether”.

“Well exactly,” said Mrs Scott. “If Louis hadn’t heard the subtle change in the machine caused by the problem with the whizimybobs, I think we would have lost the contract. We were so lucky he was around.”

“I’m intrigued,” said Harold. “We could definitely use someone with those skills. Tell me more about this Louis.”

“He’s very thorough,” said Mrs Scott. “He inspects things with his hands and often picks up on problems making things that we might miss visually. It’s been very useful to us more than once”.

“But why?” asked Harold, “why doesn’t he just use his eyes like everyone else?”

“Because his eyes don’t work,” said Mrs Scott. “Louis’s totally blind.”

“Blind?” Harold scratched his little head in utter bemusement. “How does he…how will he…what if he…I just don’t think a blind elf could work in our workshop.”

“I thought you might think that,” said Mrs Scott patiently, “but hear me out. Remember how you nearly had to cancel Christmas Eve once, because it was too foggy for Santa to travel. If it wasn’t for Rudolph, kids all around the world would have gone without presents that year.”

“Oh I remember it well,” sighed Harold. “It was the most scary day of my life. I was so stressed out I was beside my elf.”

“Then surely,” continued Mrs Scott, “you know that people with a range of abilities and gifts make Santa’s workshop run more smoothly! Louis can bring skills that many of your other elves don’t have.”

“You make a good point Mrs Scott,” Harold said. “Send him to us. We’ll take him on. I don’t want anyone getting hurt and there is a lot that goes on in this workshop, but we’ll give it a try.”

Louis arrived at Santa’s workshop the next day, with his little suitcase and his long white candy cane. He put it out in front of him, so he new when he was getting close to an obstacle. If the cane hit a wall or something left on the ground, he would feel it. And after being shown around the place, he soon started remembering where all the divisions of Santa’s great workshop were located. It wasn’t that difficult for Louis. He soon noticed how different the sounds of the machinery were depending on which part of the workshop he was in. Sometimes, his sense of smell helped too. Just like his hearing, it was no better than anyone else’s, but since he didn’t have his sight, he took more notice of what his other senses were telling him.

Louis was very excited about meeting Santa, but Harold explained that since Christmas was getting close, Santa was very busy preparing, and usually, elves just starting out didn’t get a chance to meet with the big guy.

Louis settled down to work as quickly as he could, but he wasn’t happy. He felt that he wasn’t being given as much responsibility as he was capable of. Everyone was very nice to him, but they just couldn’t imagine how he could do the things that needed to get done if he wasn’t able to see. Louis tried to be patient and explain.

“Since you’ve been able to see all your life,” he said, “you use your sight. You depend on it for a lot of things and that makes sense. But I’ve never been able to see, so I don’t know any different. I get by just fine without any sight. I might do things in a different way sometimes, but I still get the job done in the end.”

Still, the elves found it hard to give Louis a fair chance. It’s not that they meant any harm, they just were scared about him being hurt.

Then, one day, a mad panic developed in the mail room at Santa’s workshop. Every day at precisely 29 o’clock, a small earthquake could be felt, as the mail from all the children who had recently written to Santa got delivered to the workshop.

The mail elves had an efficient system of sorting through the mail, and making sure that all the requests from the girls and boys got put on Santa’s list. At the end of every day, Santa would always check the list twice, to be sure all the good children had their requests noted.

But today, the mail elves had a problem they didn’t know how to solve. They had received a group of letters that were nothing like they had ever received before. The mail elves prided themselves on being able to read every single language in the world. But these letters had them stumped. Rather than being written with squiggly characters on the page, these letters felt all bumpy. Hannah, one of the mail elves, said the pages reminded her of her teenage brother Brad, who was having a major problem with pimples. The pages, she said, looked and felt a bit like Brad’s face.

“Do you mean kids are now writing to us in pimple?” said Harold, who had been put in charge of solving the issue because of how urgent it was.

“I don’t think any child would be quite that dotty,” Hannah replied. “But I think we need to call an elf-development meeting, to see if anyone can solve this problem. Because Santa has made it clear, we need to do whatever it takes to make sure all girls and boys who write to us have their requests read, even if we can’t always grant them all”.

Elf-development meetings didn’t happen very often so close to Christmas, but this was an emergency. All the elves from around Santa’s workshop stopped what they were doing, and gathered together at exactly elve o’clock for the big meeting.

“For the first time in our history,” Harold announced, “we have received a group of letters from girls and boys that none of our team can read. Here’s a sample.”

Harold held up a page of the dot-filled writing. Everyone stared, first at the dotty page, then blankly back at Harold. No one had any idea what the writing was, or how to read it.

“The interesting thing about this writing is,” Harold said, “if you touch it, it feels very easy to distinguish by touch, almost as if you’re supposed to read it with your hands.”

Louis’s little ears pricked up. He couldn’t see the sample, but based on the description, he was pretty sure he knew what it was.

“May I please feel a page of that writing?” Louis asked.

Harold handed Louis a page filled with the dots. Louis took the fingertips of both index fingers, and started gently running his fingers across the page. He began to speak.

“Dear Santa. My name is Sam. I’m nine, and I can’t wait until your visit. For Christmas, I would please like a cool train set, one with plenty of awesome sounds and loud whistles if you can. My sister Amy is seven. She is a pest, so I think you should bring her a frog. Love, Sam.”

“How did you do that, and more to the point, what is that dotty stuff?” Harold asked.

“It’s Braille,” said Louis. “It’s the new way for blind people to read and write. These letters are from blind boys and girls. They’re writing to you themselves. You see, Braille lets blind children write to us here at Santa’s workshop, just like sighted children can.”

Suddenly, all the elves started jumping up and down and clapping. “Hooray for Louis! Hooray for Louis!”

The elves were happy because, thanks to Louis, they could make sure that all girls and boys, including those who read Braille, could get their presents on Santa’s list.

Louis spent a lot of time in the mail room after that, but that wasn’t all he did. The elves realised that just because you’re blind, it doesn’t mean you don’t have valuable skills that others may not have. They realised that Louis just did things differently. Not better, just differently. Soon, Louis was also put in charge of whizimybob inspection. The elves used to be worried that Louis would hurt himself, because whizimybobs have so many moving parts. But they knew that Louis was careful and capable, more capable at that particular job than anyone else.

One day, Harold came into the mail room to find Louis.

“The big guy wants to see you Louis,” Harold said.

“Santa? See me? Have I done something wrong?”

“No idea,” Harold said, “I was just asked to bring you to see him.”

Louis timidly knocked on Santa’s office door. “Ho, ho, ho!” came the reply. Louis opened the door, and walked into the office, which seemed to be shaking. It turns out Santa was happy to see Louis, and Santa’s enormous belly-laughter was making the whole office bounce up and down like a carnival ride.

“I wanted to see you in person Louis,” Santa said, “to thank you so much for your gift.”

“Gift?” said a puzzled Louis.

“Oh yes,” said Santa. “You know, every year, I give lots and lots of toys to girls and boys all over the world, and that’s wonderful. But your gifts are also very precious. You see, you showed us all here at the workshop that no matter who we are, we’re all special, we’re all unique, we can all do something no one else can do. Some of us are good at some things, some of us are good at others. Some of the elves here thought that just because you couldn’t see, you couldn’t contribute as much. But they just didn’t know better. Now everyone knows you’re a very important member of our team. We’d be lost without you. You showed all of us that the best gift we can give each other at Christmas is to love and appreciate everyone around us for who they are.”

And all these years later, every year, when he’s not looking after those pesky whizimybobs, you’ll find Louis in the mail room, making sure that all the Braille letters from blind children all over the world are making it onto Santa’s list, and being checked twice. Which just goes to show, there’s nothing you can’t do, as long as you believe in your elf.

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21 Oct 17

We often post this around this time of year as a nod to the season’s spooky nature. Happy Halloween!

**

The Scary Realities of Vision Loss

By Randy Pierce

Imagine reaching for the light switch in total darkness on an eerie Halloween evening. You flip the switch and nothing happens. You are surrounded by frightening noises as your hands find only unidentifiable objects. You’re trapped in a prison of manifested fear!

While there may be moments similar to this fright in the lives of someone newly blind, there is perhaps an even more powerful terror in the transitioning through vision loss towards blindness. Losing vision is challenging with the fear of the unknown and the anticipation of how much will become more difficult or seemingly impossible. Certainly any form of vision loss is going to present difficulty and each person’s experience will be different.

One fundamental part of our mission with 2020 Vision Quest is to demonstrate the possibilities of success despite vision loss, or, in my case, a transition to total blindness. This is not just intended for those dealing with the challenges directly, but also all those whose lives may be touched by these challenges despite living in a fully sighted life. So very much of a typical world is visual that it impacts many aspects of how we interact with the world and with each other. It can be tremendously isolating to have that common connection diminish in ways far too many people simply do not understand.

I do not for a moment pretend to have all the answers regarding life or vision loss. I still find many moments of significant frustration as I attempt to manage particularly difficult aspects of blindness and, not surprisingly, life. Just like anyone, there are challenges and they can at times seem to overwhelm any of us. As with any challenge, the right preparation, the right support, and a more educated world can vastly increase the chances of successful achievement through any adversity.

In thinking about the “Trick or Treat” of blindness, I acknowledge all the real and scary frustrations possible. I also welcome the incredibly powerful perspective it has brought to me as well. In losing my sight, I began to develop a more powerful vision for myself and my world. Paying attention to all the other aspects of our senses, environment, and interactions which are not visual can have a beneficial side. It’s forced me to “look” at the world differently, but has also inspired me to try to do so often in a variety of ways as I try to understand as much as possible outside the realm of the typical. While without question I do wish every day for the chance to have sight again, I know that I am glad for having lost my sight and the vision that blindness has helped bring to me.

Hopefully our charity efforts will provide education, inspiration and much more! I know that I’ve received a lot of both though the process thus far!

Happy Halloween!

See the original post here.

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15 Oct 17

By Greg Neault

Tracy with arms up on the summit of a mountain.I was running when I wrote this, so sue me if it goes too fast.

A lot of people have asked me why I decided to run a marathon. After today’s 16-mile training run, I’ve been wondering that myself. One of the leading hypotheses is that I must have been inspired to take on this bench mark of physical feats by the exploits of one Randy Pierce.

It’s easy to see why that theory would gain so much traction in my social circles. Randy and I spend a lot of time adventuring together, he is a perennial marathon runner (heck, he’s even running the very marathon I’m registered for), and if I had a nickel for every time I heard someone refer to Randy as “inspirational,” I wouldn’t be able to claim my position on staff at 2020 Vision Quest as volunteer work.

Tracy at the Sky Lodge in Peru.Although there is certainly a strong case to be made for Randy being my marathon inspiration, it’s not accurate. Don’t get me wrong, he’s certainly inspired a lot of people to do a lot of positive things (myself included), this just isn’t one of them. I’ve come to accept the fact that Randy is a force of nature that will not be stopped. He’s like my personal Chuck Norris. Our adventures don’t challenge Randy; Randy challenges our adventures. If this was your guess, though, take heart–you weren’t too far off the mark.

What some people in our 2020 Vision Quest audience may not know is that Tracy Pierce is also a marathon veteran. I have tapped into a deep well of inspiration in following the exploits of the fairer Pierce. Tracy is ever present in our adventures and exploits and as such I’ve had the privilege of bearing witness to her trials, tribulations, and triumphs.

On more than one occasion I have used the word “tenacious” to describe Tracy in pursuit of goals. When she sets her mind to a task, she will push through all physical, mental, and emotional challenges presented to reach the finish line (literally and figuratively).

Tracy with her arms up on a summit.Tracy very regularly signs on for activities that she knows are going to be an immense challenge for her that will likely be much less of an issue (possibly none at all) for many others in the group. That takes guts. I’ve often wondered if I have that kind of fortitude. I have much more than the required courage to scale a cliff to sleep in a glass bubble high above the Sacred Valley. But would I have the courage to accept an invitation from folks with greater skills or endurance than I to take part in an activity that I feel I may struggle to accomplish? I can’t say.

Tracy goes into these events with full knowledge that she won’t be the first to complete this race or challenge, she’s not going to win a national division championship, and she’s not going to be called heroic or inspirational by passersby. When some are being congratulated on their perseverance for taking on this challenge blind or dedicating their efforts to guiding a blind person through such dramatic circumstance, Tracy is hiking her hike or running her run, with no promise of accolades or pats on the back, no ribbons or Boston Marathon qualifying glory. She doesn’t do it because other people have done it–she does it because she wants to and it pleases her to do so.

When I watch Tracy take on big things, struggle harder than others, push though that hardship and make it happen, it inspires me to push myself into the unfamiliar, to reach out beyond my comfort zone and try something that does not promise to end in my favor, the completion of which will be rewarding.

I hope to bring some of her tenacity with me to the California International Marathon. If I can employ that trademark iron will, I’ll be on the path to success in Sacramento.

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