Tag: Randy



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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16 Jul 16

By Randy Pierce

July Weather has Autumn and me facing 90-degree temperatures for many consecutive days which would mean one hot dog if I wasn’t prepared to take some precautions. While a hot dog may be a fundamental part of America’s summer pursuits, it isn’t a good idea for the Dog Guides or any of our dogs… “frankly!”

Autumn in her harness with her collapsible bowl. In planning my schedule I try to ensure it involves as little time as possible on hot pavement during the prime time heat hours. If this means I have to make extra arrangements for cabs, Uber, Lyft or friends then so be it because my girl’s health is my responsibility. As a shocking example, when air temperatures are at 77, pavement in the sun has measured as high as 125! Rising into the 90 range and we are at risk of burning the paws even for short distances.

She still wants and needs her work and I still have my obligations to attend which means that I supplement the schedule adjustments with some other simple precautions. While dogs do not sweat for their cooling system in the same way our bodies respond, it’s imperative to ensure they have plenty of water. I keep her collapsible bowl on the harness and give her frequent water stops *with* accompanying extra opportunities to relieve herself. That same water that supplies her system can be used to soak her paws and help her keep cool and protected for any short distances on pavement although I still attempt to avoid it and particularly avoid the sunny portions.

Autumn drinking out of her collapsible bowl on a hot day.Ultimately I get her opportunities to work early in the morning before the heat of the day and late evening if it cools sufficiently. I evaluate whether it is unreasonable timing for her during the day and consider allowing her to stay home in the AC while I use my cane if I absolutely must travel outside at the worst times.

Being attentive and aware is the first step but it’s not enough. We all should make the choice to ensure our canine friends are kept safe from the dangers the hot summer sun can present!

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9 Jul 16

By Randy Pierce

I had heard an old college friend was facing a challenge as his adult son was battling a particularly difficult form of cancer. A silent and stoic type from my recollections, the friend wasn’t reaching out very far and so when an anonymous but connected outreach came to me I was all to eager to lend help. It is often those who reach out the least who may need the support the most.

What I believe here, however, is that there is some healing in taking action. He took the action to ride the Pan Mass Challenge and to reach out and I’d like to share his outreach with all of you. Cancer is such an ugly challenge and there are so many worthy causes I urge you to consider that if this one can resonate for you.

Please support Jeff and Mitch.

Their blog post is reprinted below:

Why I PMC

Like almost everyone, cancer has touched my family. A cousin, uncle, and grandfather succumbed to this disease.  Other family members have been diagnosed and cured.  The disease is so pervasive they say if you live long enough everyone will eventually get it.

A year ago, my son Mitch was diagnosed with a rare form of soft tissue cancer at the age of 20. He has battled like a champion through aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments for a year and his fight will continue on until a cure is found.

I try to imagine the pain, fear, and anxiety felt by cancer patients every day, but it’s not possible.  Over the past year, we have met so many skilled and compassionate caregivers and witnessed first-hand the quality of care and effectiveness of available treatments.  Let’s help them continue to provide the best possible care, fund innovative research, and improve the prognosis of all afflicted with this horrible disease.

The Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) is a bike-a-thon that today raises more money for charity than any other single athletic fundraising event in the country.  It is a two-day, 192 mile ride from Sturbridge to Provincetown, Mass.  The endurance required by the challenge is only a metaphor for that which is required by a cancer patient’s body and mind to fight the disease.  All of the proceeds go to support cancer research through the Dana-Farber cancer institute.

If not for Mitch, for someone effected who is close to you – Ride with me or support the battle by sponsoring my ride at http://profile.pmc.org/JL0432

See the original post here.

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2 Jul 16

By Randy Pierce

It was July 4, 2010 and we were sitting on boulders outside Lake of the Clouds on Mt. Washington. This was our first official climb of the 2020 Vision Quest and I was certainly feeling a little independence celebration. Our weary crew was discussing the days trials and tribulations when the first bursts of color set my imagination soaring. Perched atop this pillar of New England those of us with sight could see all of New Hampshire, much of Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont and even places beyond. As the various townships began launching their fireworks into the night sky below us, the notion was astounding within my mind. What a glorious way to celebrate in full festive fashion as fireworks feel to me, the exuberance of our accomplishment on this day and in a much grander way our country’s pursuit of freedom.

Kat Alix-Gaudreau created two film shorts for the experience which are well worth revisiting for the anniversary of our inaugural hike. While I’ll always treasure the team of Quinn, Tracy, Kara, Carrie, Jenifer, Ben, Cliff, Kat, and Jessie as well as our voluminous learning experiences upon that journey. I think the messages stand powerfully still today in both versions of her film productions:

Blind Ambition – Independence Day 2010 Climb of Mt Washington – (4-min. preview)

Blind to Failure – Independence Day 2010 Climb of Mt Washington – (17 mins.)

One finally amusing reality to close out this patriotic reflection. I shared the story of the fireworks in much more vivid and vibrant description at several presentations. In my mind’s eye, we were witnessing the Esplanade Finale happening all over New England again and again from our lofty perch. It was a few weeks before my wife shared the truth of it with me.

Because our distance from those towns was often so great, they were occasionally just little dots of color in the distance and not nearly the spectacle my imagination had created. Tracy was initially concerned I would be disappointed by this revelation. Ultimately I think it is ironic but telling that sometimes the blind man has the better “sight” of a situation thanks to the power of imagination.

Happy 4th of July, everyone! I’m proud to celebrate the independence I feel in my life personally and in my country where I consider myself so very fortunate to live.

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25 Jun 16

By Randy Pierce

Take me directly to the Seventh Annual Peak Potential Page – I am Coming to the Event!

Lively participation in our live auction at Peak Potential 2015.

Lively participation in our live auction at Peak Potential 2015.

On July 12, the price goes up for a table of 8 to join us at our 7th Annual Peak Potential Dinner and Auction. But there’s still enough time for many of you to take advantage of our best rate by putting together a table of 8 friends and buying a table together. Until July 12, the price for a table is just $500, which breaks down to $62.50 per person. (The table price goes up to $600 after that, and individual tickets are always $100 per person.) We invite you to join us at the Courtyard Marriott in Nashua, our largest and finest venue yet, which we hope will be our home for the foreseeable future.

Your kind choice will help us continue the mission that our all-volunteer staff, myself included, work incredibly hard to provide throughout the year. You become part of the positive change in the lives of the more than 50,000 students we have reached in our school visits as well as thousands more outside of the school programs. Meanwhile, we expect to reach significant landmark donations to each of the worthy organizations we support, Guiding Eyes for the Blind and the New Hampshire Association for the Blind. All of the work we accomplish comes from the community of support we’ve built and the vast majority at this event each year.

You may of course purchase individual tickets or paired tickets at any time and tables will still be available until they sell out (we hope once again!). By choosing to purchase a table earlier, you will save a little–which we encourage you to use on the auction or to help entice you to bring friends with you to experience our signature event. Help us ensure it is a complete success by getting on board early. The event isn’t until November 12, but our planning is fully under way and the more tables sold in advance the easier it becomes for us to bring on more sponsors, donors, and features to this marquis event.

I truly hope to see you there and commit to providing a few worthy surprises on the night of the event!

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11 Jun 16

By Randy Pierce

Randy speaks in front of the McGreal centerSeveral hundred people descended upon the McGreal Sight Center for the NH Association for the Blind’s 13th annual Walk for Sight on Saturday, June 5, 2016. 2020 Vision Quest was represented by a team of 20 walkers who raised over our goal of $2,020 for the event.

One highlight this year was NHAB’s “Walk in My Shoes” program. Several fully sighted walkers chose to work with a Mobility Trainer from the Association to experience what it is like to travel with sight impairment. A little instruction and the use of sight simulators for glaucoma, macular degeneration, and several other common sight disorders, including a blindfold for the fully blind experience, enabled these walkers to truly understand some of the challenges faced by those served regularly by NHAB.

"Walk in My Shoes" - sighted people guiding people with blindfolds to mimic the experience of blindness.Since our team had a collection of children on the team, they wanted to experience a form of this and with their parents helped it to take place. I was able to walk amidst them with Autumn guiding me. Listening to their excitement and observations made me appreciate the enthusiasm of youth as well as their candor. Our version only involved closing their eyes so we didn’t get the sight restriction from them, but I did hear from several that trying to use limited sight was almost more strain in concentration.

For us the first and most common concept for them to experience was the trust in their sighted guide. It wasn’t reasonable to have them train for cane or dog but sighted guide is a common method for a sighted person to help with simple guidelines (no pun intended) to lead them along our city route amongst the crowd of fellow walkers. All seemed to become very aware of the ground on which they walked which they formerly took for granted. Each crack in the sidewalk, curb, sewer grate and even patch of sand became a little more noticeable for the potential hazard it represented.

While I expect at 6’4″ of height I may need to duck at times, it was surprising how many shrubs had our shorter team members ducking – even Tracy at her towering 4’11″ (and ¾”!!).

A final observation which I find quite true but was surprised to have noted by one of our youths was how much their awareness shrank to a smaller group than they were used to. Eyes allow you to understand what’s happening at a distance and in the noisy environment the world reduced to just a couple of close-by people and the concentration to manage the terrain.

The day was beautiful with many laughs as we relaxed together to celebrate helping a good cause while spending time together. I hope that next year we again assemble an even larger team to either experience a little walk in my shoes or help us support both our charity, 2020 Vision Quest, and the New Hampshire Association for the Blind! Thank you again to all those who joined us, all our many donators and especially to those who delved a little deeper this year!

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5 Jun 16

By Randy Pierce

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
– Søren Kierkegaard

Man in a canoe at sunsetOn June 9, 2016 I’ll reach my 50th Birthday and accordingly a half-century of reflections. One aspect of these involves thinking of myself as a fully sighted person who became legally and eventually completely blind. Knowing my fully sighted years ended roughly on my 22nd birthday, this suggests the majority of my life has now occurred while under the label of blindness.

Yet I do not think of myself as a blind person who was once sighted. I could write a book on reflections of my life and in fact I am in the process of that very thing. Presently I am simply reflecting on a small portion of my self image regarding my blindness.

I am not a blind person but rather a person who happens to also be blind. That definition is sufficiently comfortable for me that I find no offense in those who express it differently. While it is a rare day my blindness doesn’t cause some form of minor frustration in my life, it simply does not feel like a defining feature for me. I’m similarly a person who is tall and while getting into a compact car or shopping for pants  may result in some challenge, I do not dwell negatively upon my height. Simply the realities of my blindness have resulted in my making some adjustments and accommodations to how I approach my days.

Yet the many years of having chosen this path effectively hides those changes from my common consideration. Why then do I not identify more strongly with the blindness as a part of myself in these reflections? It could be that first impressions are often more lasting. It could be that I feel so normally and conventionally invested into the world that it takes a purposeful reflection to realize. Either way, as I cross this landmark birthday, I suspect I will finally escape from an inaccurate and all too common statement in which I’ve often suggested, “I’ve been fully sighted most of my life.” I’ve now been blind most of my life and while I still would love to see someday, hope to see someday, and perhaps will see again someday, I’m very happy with my vision of who I am regardless of sight.

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14 May 16

By Randy Pierce

A Walk in Autumn's Shoes?While Guiding Eyes trainers and puppy raisers deserve the vast majority of the credit for the quality training in my dog guides, the continued success is based on their helping guide me to methods of ongoing training work together. Their work in teaching me how to continually sustain and advance our training is why I believe I have generally very good success in my teamwork with these dogs. People often see the results and ask me for tips and tricks to help work with their dogs and I’m happy to share a few of my opinions with the above caveat that others have created an excellent foundation for me.

One of the first and most easy reminders is to be steady and consistent with our dogs. This consistency helps prevent any confusion on their part for what we want and expect. I use repetition and consistency to help strengthen the base skills regularly.

Unfortunately for Autumn (and me!), my recent medical challenges have caused a change in many of our routines presently. Understanding that this change has an impact on Autumn is an important part of my ability to manage the response. For all the humor of poor Autumn wearing my size 14 running shoes, the reality is the old adage has value in all of our training work. I want to take a walk in Autumn’s shoes to try and understand what a change may mean for her. Dogs are not humans and do not mirror our thought processes. We can, however, with a little investigation come to better understand their motivations and responses, effectively learning to think a little as they might be thinking.

My doctors have suggested I not walk anywhere outside my home without another person present. This means that my daily longer walks with Autumn have come to an abrupt halt. It’s easy for me to be caught up in my own frustrations with this and fail to realize the impact on Autumn. She is accustomed to getting a higher level of exercise for her body and her mind given how much she is asked to problem solve while we are working together. As such, I need to find positive outlets for her to replace those aspects or I may find her problem solving less ideal solutions of her own. Many dogs exhibit what we deem as destructive behavior when they do not get sufficient outlet for their energy. Understanding this as the underlying cause can lead us to the solution rather than getting caught up in the symptom of the undesired behavior. There are many ways to approach solutions and the real key begins with the awareness which is the core message of this blog. Learn to take a walk in your dog’s paws and you are on the path to building a better training foundation.

In my case I try to schedule people to visit for those walks as one step. I’ve increased her backyard high energy play sessions and I’ve increased our hide and seek games to help her use her problem solving and thinking approach which is lacking. While she loves all of these things, I’ve also noticed that she’s a little more attention-desiring (needy) of me. I understand the reasons for that outreach and am reassuring her with an appreciation for the reason behind her changes. So if you notice an undesired behavior or change in your dog, perhaps ask yourself what changes you may have caused for them, whether intended or inadvertent. Perhaps that may help you grow your own training skills.

Ever the opportunist, why not “take a walk in our shoes” by joining us at the NHAB Walk for Sight coming right up! We’d love to have you on our team.

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