I have sat on a stranger's lap on a train.
I was born with a genetic eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa, which typically causes progressive vision loss beginning with the peripheral vision and leaving a person with what is called tunnel vision. But I was never typical. I lost my central vision first, taking away the ability to see details and depth perception, and over time I was left with small islands of peripheral vision. I thought that going blind would be the hardest challenge of my life to overcome, but when I woke up one morning and could not move any part of my body without excruciating pain everything changed.
I was diagnosed with Lupus carrying the symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis and for the next few years saying that I was crippled and over medicated would be an understatement. I could not step off a curb without my knees buckling, was constantly having ulcers in my mouth cauterized, developed circulation issues, would wake up screaming because I simply moved in my sleep, I could not dress myself and the list goes endlessly on. Eventually, I ended up hospitalized and told that I was in total liver failure and as my doctor and my husband discussed transplants, infection, and death I sat there thinking that this could not be real. I had my son, Cooper’s, baseball game to go to and my baby Easton needed his mom to sing silly songs to him.
It was my husband who truly saved my life... twice. The first time was when he made me change my diet completely which ultimately curbed my joint pain. The second time was when he dragged me into Crossfit Myo, believing in me when I felt no hope for myself. I started going to the gym two days a week, which turned to five days, which at some point even became two times a day. I was hooked. It was like every time I walked into the gym I was instantaneously liberated from ignorance and pity. Nobody felt sorry for me and that ignited a “no excuses attitude” inside of me. So then when I was introduced to the world of adaptive Crossfit, you can only imagine...
When I was introduced to WheelWOD a platform dedicated to creating competitive adaptive athletes, I was transformed. With that single word, I was no longer disabled. I was adaptive. Without hesitation I signed up for the WheelWOD Open that ran parallel to the Crossfit Open and could earn me a spot at the WheelWOD Games. This has ultimately been the Adaptive Crossfit Games and would be held in Ontario, Canada that year. To my surprise, I qualified and would go on to be the first totally blind athlete to compete at the WheelWOD Games. The competition was four days long and to this day I still believe it was the most intense test of my mental and physical strength. There was swimming, running in the baking heat, max lifts, rope climbs and jumping over walls. I even had to throw baseballs for accuracy. Yes, I had to throw baseballs. Can you guess how I did in that workout? Even in that I didn’t complain or give up. If others believed that I could do it then I was going to give it my all with a smile on my face. The part of me that had always made me feel insecure and had held me back for so long was now being celebrated, and the gratitude I felt and continue to feel for that drives me forward in hopes of sharing that feeling with others.
Now I write this almost exactly one year later, honored to be participating in the most inclusive CrossFit Open ever-- that has not just one adaptive division but eight. I am in the Vision Division and every workout has been adapted perfectly to keep the playing field fair regardless of a person’s degree of sight loss, and most importantly safe for all athletes. This is the start of something huge! I choke up thinking to myself how before CrossFit I was so embarrassed to admit that I was blind and now I can hold my head up high and proudly say that I have a chance of going to the CrossFit Games as a blind athlete. Who would have thought that burpees would have anything to do with giving me such a blessed life.
I always wondered as a kid what my life would be like once I was totally blind. I certainly did not think that I would be able to say that I am more confident, stronger and happier than I ever was with vision. In the end it really comes down to not just accepting the challenges that life gives us but embracing them and using them to keep pushing forward. Never give up on yourself because what you see as the end may actually be the beginning of something spectacular.