How did I get to the podium? It was 1978 and Google was not heard of, let alone the internet. Back in 1969, the
option of sitting in your own living room, with an iPad or laptop computer, wondering what was out there, and browsing an afternoon away, was unimaginable. I use Google for almost everything; Google and my screen reader are my tickets to endless information. My parents did not have Google. I can’t imagine what it was like for them. I am a parent and raised two children. I remember the angst of both myself and my kids when they were in high school and as we sat in the optometrists’ offices when they began having trouble seeing overhead projections and the black boards in highschool. Of course…they both just needed glasses like their dad. but, I never thought of my diagnosis from my parents’ point of view until I was the parent sitting in the office chair. This time it was my kids in the ‘big chair’. I knew too well the familiar sounds of all the machinery and medical gadgets that surrounded them and moved in and out testing their vision. I held my breath just like my parents would have. Except they had no warning, no inkling that anything except getting glasses to correct my vision would be the outcome. But it wasn’t glasses I needed. I needed a miracle. My kids got glasses as teenagers. I was nine years old, in Grade 3, when my parents heard…
“Lisa has a rare juvenile macular degeneration. Her prognosis is poor, possibly total blindness. There is no timeline and no treatment. She may never work, marry, have a family or be able to live independently.”
These words must have devastated my stay-at-home mom and Dr. Dad. But they did not lose hope and I never felt I wasn’t able to do anything I wanted to. They just made it happen. I was the eldest of four children. They did not accept the attitude and societal dictums around disability in the early 1970’s. Their vision was years ahead of society’s. Turns out, my parents and I forged new paths together with every new activity I wanted to do. Curiosity, perseverance, creativity and determination were the drivers of change and ability in our home. Dad exhausted all avenues medical. At 79, significantly slowed down by Parkinson’s disease, he remains bright and a constant medical search engine on the computer and a wonderful man to bounce ideas off of. Mom turns out to be a walking search engine herself. At 78, she remains as vital and resourceful as she has ever been
and she never gives up looking for answers and access. There is no one in this world as creative a problem solver and straight shooter as mom. I remember her asking me about getting involved in blind sports. I had no interest in this. “Come on, mom, why would I want to hang around with other blind and disabled people? Besides, how did you hear of such a thing?” My goal at 16 was to be as ‘normal’ as possible. So far, so good. My disability was ‘invisible’ to most. I did not need a cane and saw enough to walk through the high school halls, manage the stairs, run around home, hang with my friends and basically go unnoticed as being ‘different’.
I have no idea how mom found B.C. Blind Sports. It was only started around 1976 by the mom of a blind runner (Pat York). How mom found Pat’s mom I have no idea, but B.C. Blind Sports would change my life.
I was a water baby from the get-go. At the age of 8 I had finished all my Red Cross badges and had to wait till I was 13 for my next level. So the teacher suggested I join the swim club. It was a great fit. I swam till the age of 13 for the Jewish Community Center in Vancouver. I was a strong swimmer, completely independent in the water, and held my own, but by high school got focused on academics.
Mom introduced me to Pat York and basically over the next year we became friends. I started to go to the track and run with Pat. I met very friendly guides, coaches and other athletes. I tentatively and gradually got more and more involved. I returned to the pool in 1976, training with the Vancouver Dolphins. Before I knew it, I was on a plane to Newfoundland with a small team of B.C. athletes. Rick Hansen and Terry Fox were also going to their first National Disabled Games on this plane.
Meeting all the other athletes amazed me. Being disabled with these people was normal. Just normal. I wasn’t the different one. I was just myself: Lisa and by the way, my disability was blindness. My friend Gary was just Gary, his disability was below knee amp. Terry was just Terry; his disability was above knee amp. Rick was just Rick (and a wheelie as we referred to the wheelchair athletes.) Then there were the volunteers who made it all happen. It was the first time I had heard people referred to as TABS (temporarily able-bodied.)
I was catapulted from being a strong swimmer to a National Gold medalist.
My training and performance earned me places on the 1980 Paralympic team and several national and international teams competing across Canada and in Europe.
I was very appreciative, as most, basically all, part time jobs require sight (retail, coffee shops, grocery store clerks, waitressing, house cleaning, front desk clerks…) My education provided me a rewarding professional career. How I was able to complete a Master’s Degree without reading print and before computers is another blog indeed. I’ll just say it took massive amounts of energy, coordination, a team of readers, a good dose of determination, desire and creative problem solving.
Sports continue to be a cornerstone of my life. The desire to do comes first. There is always a way to do after that. Where there is a will, there is a way.
If you feel sidelined by failing vision and want to get back involved in a more active healthy lifestyle, contact B.C. Blind Sports and Recreation Association (www.bcblindsports.bc.ca) You will find all levels of activity from gentle recreation to higher levels of competition and an opportunity to participate in a sport at the Paralympic level.