By Melissa Caruso
Peak Potential has never quite been your run-of-the-mill event. Sure, some of it’s the same stuff I’d see at a fundraiser for my kids’ school: food, silent auction, raffle, the usual suspects. But at Peak Potential, you get to hear about the latest adventures and accomplishments of Randy and the Mighty Quinn, which never fail to uplift and amaze. You can get puppy kisses from the next generation of guide dogs, attending with their raisers. And the enthusiasm and support of the 2020 Vision Quest community is truly warm and wonderful.
Peak Potential is always a little special. But this year, the event transcended “a little special” and became a truly wonderful and moving experience.
With the sad medical news about Quinn’s bone cancer, I wasn’t sure if I’d see him there this year. But there he was, making the rounds as usual — only this time, his admirers got to feed him Charlee Bears. It was good to see his wagging tail and get a greeting sniff (after getting permission, of course). And he had a lot of admirers to greet — the place was packed almost beyond capacity.
Randy’s presentation began with assurances that Quinn’s life at home these days had turned into Play-a-palooza and Treat-o-rama, and that he and Tracy were spoiling the Mighty Quinn as thoroughly as he deserved. The applause that greeted this announcement was so vigorous and heartfelt that you’d have thought the Patriots scored a touchdown. It was one of many signs of the amazing, positive, supportive atmosphere in the room that night.
Randy also shared a video and photos that showcased Quinn’s playful side and gorgeous grin. To me, the way Quinn zips around like a happy maniac when out of harness underscores how incredible guide dogs are — he’s very much just a goofy, sweet, yellow lab, just like my own significantly less accomplished dog, but look at the amazing things he can do! The fact that Quinn and Randy are, when it comes down to it, just a normal dog and guy — they’re not actually superheroes, even though they may seem like it sometimes — only makes their example more powerful.
This is part of why Randy is one of those rare people who makes you feel like a better person just for knowing him. It doesn’t seem to make sense — how can just knowing someone improve you? But through his contagious inspiration, he does. I’ve seen it in action.
Due to winning a bid at an earlier Peak Potential, my family had the great honor of being a part of Randy’s hiking team for his penultimate hike in the summer 48, Mt. Carrigain. When planning for the hike, I agonized about whether to bring along my two little girls, who at that time were aged 6 and 9. They’re seasoned hikers compared to most kids their age, but at 10 miles round trip, the trail would be nearly twice the length of their longest previous hike, with a far greater elevation gain. But then I thought of the 2020 Vision Quest message, and I realized that there was no way I was going to tell my girls “you can’t do this, it’s too hard.” And sure enough, they rose to the challenge beautifully, and completed a hike that most grownups would consider a substantial accomplishment.
Peak Potential, Randy’s philosophy, and the sterling example on the trail of Randy and Quinn’s amazing partnership all made that possible. Without them, my girls and I still wouldn’t know that they had the capability in them all along.
I thought of that hike as Randy spoke of the accomplishments of 2020 Vision Quest this year. There was a lot to be proud of. Back when Randy first announced his intent to hike all 48 of the 4000’+ peaks in the White Mountains, those of us who knew him well suspected he might accomplish this goal early — but even so, we never would have guessed he would do it twice by 2013! And hearing Randy’s account of how the funds raised by 2020 Vision Quest for Guiding Eyes for the Blind and the New Hampshire Association for the Blind have grown dramatically from year to year was as heartening and inspiring as his comparison of the impressive numbers to the staggering cost of training a single guide dog was sobering.
Randy’s presentations are always a highlight of the evening, but I didn’t expect the auction itself to be thrilling and moving. I should have known better — with 2020 Vision Quest, you should always expect the unexpected. The incredible generosity and enthusiasm of the community came through in the live bidding, with heated but friendly competition for all of the items. Even the silent auction blew me away — this was the first time I’d ever seen such a high percentage of the items in a silent auction go for full price (or even more). But the most moving moment of the auction came when it was time to auction off a gorgeous print of the Mighty Quinn, beautifully mounted with a quote from Gandhi.
This auction went a little differently. Randy started out by asking how many people in the audience would be willing to pay a low price — $40 — for the print. A forest of hands went up. Then he asked us to keep our hands up, as he said higher and higher numbers, until he came to a price that we weren’t willing to pay. And he began counting.
As he got up past $100, some hands went down, but many remained firmly in the air. Randy asked Tracy to tell him when to slow down, and kept counting, quickly. At $200, she still hadn’t asked him to — many hands were still up. $250, $260, $270… still, several hands thrust up with conviction in the crowd. A hush fell over the room.
As Randy kept counting, I looked around at the faces of the people bidding. I’m not sure I can describe what I saw there, but it was beautiful. The dedication, good will, love, faith, and more that one mighty dog has instilled in so many hearts was incredibly moving.
And Randy kept counting. Past $300, past $350, and still Tracy didn’t need to tell him to slow down. $400…$450…$490… $500.
Randy stopped, and asked Tracy how many hands were still in the air. There were four. With the agreement of all, he decided to make three more copies and give them each one for $500… so we’ll never know how high he would have had to count.
I like to think of those four prints, maybe hanging in the living rooms of four wonderfully generous people, and imagine guests asking about them. I envision those four lucky winners trying to explain, with an enthusiasm familiar to all of us who’ve done it ourselves, the Mighty Quinn and Randy, and all the amazing things they’ve accomplished.
Because when inspiration is that contagious, just knowing them is all it takes for it to spread, and take root, and grow.