It's not what you are given; it's what you do with what you've got.
Nancy Stevens is a blind triathlete who lives by the mantra.
“Being active is pretty much my life,” Stevens said. “But the thing about doing sports is usually you need a guide.”
Stevens, 51, of Bend, is committed to advocating for the disabled. As a member of a recently formed visually impaired support group, she has big plans to create possibilities for her peers to be more active.
On Friday, Stevens and about half a dozen visually impaired Central Oregon residents paired up with Bend Park & Recreation District to hike an asphalt trail at Pine Nursery Park in Bend. The activity was the result of a new partnership between the support group and the park district.
“It doesn't matter how far or how fast you go today, really just enjoy it. Take your time,” Stevens told the group before they took off on the trail. “I'm just so appreciative of the people that just jumped in to help us here.”
Cheryl Kelly, therapeutic recreation coordinator for Bend Park & Recreation District, helped initiate the hike. She said they anticipate planning one activity a month with the group. Kelly was able to schedule transportation, usually one of the biggest challenges for the blind.
Eric Troup, 41, of Redmond, was finally able to be surrounded by nature because of the scheduled event.
“I have been here for the last five years, and I have never had a lot of access to the nature that everyone keeps talking about,” he said. “This was pretty cool.”
During the hike, some of the group members were able to access the trail by following a park district staff member as they walked using a cane or a sight dog. Others stayed closer to a staffer by using a method called sighted guide, which is when a blind person holds on to a guide's elbow and is usually to the side of or behind the guide. Staff members were able to give descriptions of the surroundings.
Some people in the group have been blind since birth. Others are slowly losing their vision and are learning to adjust.
“You don't see things with your eyes anymore, but you just have to see things another way,” Stevens said. “Some people just lost their vision and (the group) is a great way to have somebody say there are things you can do and there is a way.”
Sheila Babcock, 60, of Redmond, lost her night vision when she was 7. Her vision is progressively getting worse, and she started using a cane two years ago. Participating in the support group sessions has allowed her to learn from peers and helps her feel liberated.
“The thing about the cane is that you can feel everything. It's invaluable. It's my eye on the ground,” she said. “Just being able to know that my independence is not lost, and I know I won't be burden, makes me feel invincible.”
Darwin Simtustus, 49, of Bend, is legally blind. After getting a cornea transplant because of an ulcer in his right eye, he lost motivation to be active after surgery. The best part about participating in the program has been the ability to start working out again.
“I just got lazier,” he said. “But with this, I'm slowly getting back into it. I'm hoping I can get back into running again.”
Al Diluzio, 64, of Bend, hopes the group will motivate others to not lose hope.
“I'm relatively new to this. I started losing my sight a year-and-a-half ago,” he said. “I've seen what happens to people who don't embrace their blindness. They want to sit in their house and not get out, and that is a waste of a life. I want people to know there are resources out there, and I would really encourage them to reach out.”