Wednesday, March 17, 2010

We've Got Spirit, Yes We Do!

Courtney and Tola in the torch relay
Olympic spirit, that is! Three GDB alumni participated in either the Olympic or Paralympic torch relays as the 2010 games were held in Vancouver, British Columbia these past few weeks. Courtney Maddocks with her guide Tola (pictured above) carried the torch during the Olympic torch relay, while Heather Walkus and guide Nimitz and Bruce Gilmoure and guide Aurora, relayed the torch for the Paralympics several weeks later.

Heather (pictured below) sent along this write-up about what the honor of carrying the torch meant to her:

I am 54 years old and have been active and athletic all my life. I had a full life full of varied interests, friends, family and a husband. 10 years ago I started noticing little things. Like not being able to see my horses and all of a sudden they would sneak up on me. I started tripping and dropping things when handed to me or not being able to determine distances. Over time, things I were looking at were missing pieces. Parts of my vision started disappearing.

After learning I was going blind, I had to decide whether to give up or to live as fully as possible. Going blind made a big change in my life. I lost my husband, friends, family and colleagues. People would not or could not adjust to the changes in my life. I knew I was still the same person, but people close to me treated me very differently. Longtime friends still walk past me on the street and not acknowledge me. Others quit phoning or dropping by. I was forced to leave my beloved horses behind and move to town, alone.

It was when I received my first Guide Dog, Hank, from Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, that my life started to turn around. I started traveling, and meeting new people. I met a dear friend, Judy Hemmer and her Guide Dog Perdy, who taught me how to be secure while traveling the world and enjoy it. I have learned more about myself than I ever thought possible.

Heather and Nimitz in the torch relay
Today, thanks to my new friends and my Guide Dog, Nimitz, I am strong both mentally and emotionally and live in the supportive town of Keremeos in British Columbia. Thanks to the encourage and support of the Mayor, Walter Despot, and community leaders like Kelly McKay and June Croutch, I can now use my skills to volunteer time for people with “abilities,” both seen and unseen. They made room for me in the community. I now assist people to find and learn to use, new technologies and to create for themselves, a high quality of life. I started writing again and have recently joined a blind photography group.

I have the utmost respect for the Para Olympians and want to celebrate their accomplishments, confidence and courage. Courage shows itself in many forms when a person faces adversity. I do not feel courageous dealing with my blindness, that is the easy part. I feel the need for courage when educating sighted people who are blinded by their discomfort when having to relate to me. I feel courageous getting through a shopping center or airport and safely onto a plane with my Guide Dog. I feel courageous when having the patience to explain to someone why I need a Guide Dog and still have the ability to use a camera and travel the world.

Being a Torch Bearer is a right of passage for me and says I am part of something greater than myself: a community of capable and productive people. I belong, Guide Dog and all. I feel the courage of people I meet who, through their own intelligence and grace, have reshaped how society views and supports people like me. To them and all the Olympians who show the world what true courage is about, Thank You.

Update, 3/22/10: Here's a link to a YouTube video of
Bruce Gilmour at the Paralympic Torch Relay:

1 comment:

  1. What a special experience for each of you! Thanks for sharing.