Monthly Archives: April 2014

An extraordinary man inspires an ordinary life.

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I know, this topic is a bit bizarre!  But my life is kind of bizarre that way… I used to seek out extraordinary people for my blind sons to meet so they too would be inspired to achieve extraordinary things.  Ever since my oldest son was diagnosed with a devastating blindness before he was a year old, I have sought out to meet role models for our family.

At first, I needed to meet people that could help me cope.  (I say “needed” because if there is anything I know for sure, it is that whenever you are going through a struggle you literally need to connect with others that experienced a similar struggle and survived.)  But then as I got better at coping with life taking a turn I wasn’t expecting, I realized my boys were going to need role models, inspirational folks to show them that blindness should not stop you from achieving great things.  I mean, think about it… if you have a child obsessed with baseball, they probably have favorite players they love to watch and imitate…. and if a kid is in to music, they likely want to sing, dance even dress like their favorite rock star.  I wanted my boys to find their “rock stars”, their “legends” in the those realms too, but more importantly in the blind community.

Take one of our favorite “legends” that happens to be blind:  Erik Weihenmayer.  Erik lost his sight in his early teens.  And although he admits he struggled with fear and anger surrounding the blindness, he overcame it… and has gone on to achieve greater success than most sighted people I know.  Erik is the only blind mountain climber to have climbed all seven summits.  He was a teacher.  He is a motivational speaker.  He has written two of the best books I have ever read.*  And now he is embarking on a kayaking expedition that makes my heart skip a few beats just thinking about.

We had the great honor of introducing my oldest son to Erik back when Michael was in first grade.  He was one of the first blind role models Michael ever met… but for me, he was one of the first people to help me climb out of the depths of sadness that the blindness diagnosis had me buried in.  It was years before that meeting that I had read Erik’s first book “Touch the Top of the World”, and as he chronicled losing his sight but creating an exhilarating life, I began to spend less time crying and more time teaching my son the skills he’d need to achieve greatness.

Fast forward  to present day… last week while we took the kids on a short vacation, we had the great honor of spending time with Erik and his beautiful family.  The kids were so excited to meet their hero… even my sighted daughter was excited to meet him as she had just read a short biography about Erik in her third grade class!  And me, well I couldn’t wait to hear the latest stories of Erik’s Soldiers to Summit program, and get an inside scoop on the GPS he and his friend are developing… Erik always has wild adventures he has either just completed or is about to start… always exciting!  I couldn’t wait for all the awe-inspiring stories he’d tell, and absolutely couldn’t wait for my boys’ reactions and to see the inspired looks on their faces just knowing that Erik was opening even more doors of thoughts of possibilities for them.

And then a funny thing happened… Erik and his family share stories about kayaking and wrestling matches, and  they chatted with my guys about sports and school and apps for the iphone.  Erik’s daughter would roll her eyes when he made “typical” Dad comments that are so not cool to 13 year olds, and his son would giggle at the silly stuff Erik would talk about. And then his son and my younger kids did just what most kids do:  they sat at the table just long enough to eat before they all escaped to play a crazy ball game elsewhere.

I realized how incredibly blessed I was to sit and watch this extraordinary man have an incredibly ordinary life.  My boys now not only see him as an inspiration to achieve greatness, they know him as a blind adult with a “regular life”:  he’s a husband, a dad, an ordinary guy having a wonderful time doing ordinary as well as extraordinary things.  I think that is what we all want for ourselves and our kids.

To learn more about Erik Weihenmayer visit www.touchthetop.com

*Erik has written Touch the Top of the World and The Adversity Advantage.

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I am the Baseball Mom I never thought I’d be

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I am a baseball mom.  I was at a bunch of stores this week getting the right cleats and a new glove for the start of the new season.  I went through the drawers and bins to be sure all the baseball pants are ready and all the “cold gear” and “heat gear” are set.  I have my blankets and bleacher cushion and super-mega pixel/zoom/zillions-of-frames-per-second camera ready to go

My baseball son is 10, and this is his first year in the “big league”: they can finally steal home and there are playoffs, which means…. cue the Rocky music… there is a Championship trophy at stake!

Yep, I am a baseball mom…but there was a time when I never thought I’d be one… and for my older son, my baseball mom days are over.  So I am gonna ride this baseball wave like the proud, excited, happier than ever cheering mom that I am… just as soon as I get over my start of the new season nerves.

You see, my baseball son is blind, not completely “in the dark” blind, but so blind that he can’t see how many fingers you are holding up when you stand just a couple feet away from him.  And like his older blind brother years ago, he is on a “regular” baseball team in the league where all his buddies from his “regular”” school play.  Yes, there are blind sports programs and my sons participate in them.  But my guys also want to be able to take the same field as their buddies, and trash talk at school about teams that “cheat” and umps that “stink” and dugouts that are “cool”.  It’s a kid thing… not a sighted kid thing, just a kid thing.. and my guys want in.

Although he is in a league where the kids outgrew a batting tee a long time ago, my son has to hit off the tee because he can’t see a pitch coming to him.  He runs the bases utilizing a coach’s voice calling him.  And he plays the outfield with another teammate: the teammate fields the ball, hands it to my son, and the player awaiting the throw gives him a sound cue for a throwing target.

After weeks of snow and rain cancelling all baseball warm up activities, we finally had the first scrimmage game  and I was likely the most nervous person in town.  I was nervous about the kids accepting a blind teammate.  I was nervous about the parents accepting a blind player.  I was nervous the coaches would give my son a “sympathy” try here and there but not fully include him.

I sat shyly on the bleachers chatting a bit with parents and awaited the question I dread, “Which player is yours?” I tried saying “Mine’s the short one”, but this year there is actually a player shorter than my son.  I tried to say “Mine’s the one with the big mouth”, but there are lots of big mouths on a team of 10 to 12 year old boys.  So I figured I may as well get it over with: “Mine’s the blind guy.”  Maybe it’s because my family has been in this community so long, or maybe the coaches talked to the other parents about my son, I am not sure the reason, but parents on this team didn’t give a raised eyebrow, they didn’t have a look of “OMG”… they simply smiled with a “that’s cool” kind of look and then let me know which son was theirs.  Wow, my nerves were calming a bit.

No sooner did I calm down, the game started and first to walk out of the dugout and up to bat… my son.  The tee was set.  The fielders took their “ready position.”  My son gently ran his hand over the ball on the tee and lined himself up to swing at it.  My heart was pounding and I could barely breathe.  You see, I know everyone wants their kid to get a hit.  I know everyone wants the team to win.  I couldn’t have cared less about most of it at that moment: for me, if my son misses, there is the fear that folks are thinking “Oh bless his heart the poor blind kid can’t see the ball”  And if he misses there is the fear that the teammates are thinking “Oh great, we have a blind kid messing up our lineup.”  I feel like the “changing what it means to be blind” mantra of our family is at stake.

Up at the plate, my son pulled the bat back and with his mighty swing he hit the ball… and he hit it hard. It was a hard grounder to the shortstop.  My son learned years ago that a ball can only go so far when hit off a tee… so he learned to run really fast to beat the throw to first.  And this time, he ran faster than ever… and he beat the throw to first!

The teammates in the dugout went crazy, as they always do for a guy that gets a hit… and hearing them cheering “Way to go Mitchell!” made my heart skip a beat.  Mitchell’s proud, excited smile is all I can think about.  He did it.  He helped his team and they are proud of him… and he is proud of himself.

Mitchell went on to hit a pop fly his second at bat and a single into center field on his final at bat.  He played all positions in the outfield and sat the bench in the rotation, just like every other player.  The other players guided him when he needed it  and laughed at his dumb jokes, just like every other player.

At the end of the game, the other parents did not say “Oh good job for the blind guy.”  They did not say “Good hits off the tee.”  They all said “Wow….  He can run really fast!” Imagine that… I was so fixated on making sure my son could keep up with hitting and fielding like everyone else, I forgot that he has an incredible talent that makes him stand out as a player, not a blind or sighted player, just a player.

PS – My older son, Michael, used to play but due to his blindness it isn’t safe for him to be on the “regular” field anymore.  Although our family is working to find a cure for this blindness, it likely won’t be ready in the three years my 10 year old, Mitchell, has to play in this competitive yet inclusive league.  So if you see me cheering a bit loudly or notice tears of joy spilling down my face, know that I am savoring every single second of being a baseball mom 🙂  And I hope every baseball mom cherishes the fact that their child can play, whether they are a superstar or not 🙂  

Meet my son Mitchell and our family at our fundraising site for the Curing Retinal Blindness Foundation  www.bikethebasin.org