I like to think I’m a fairly independent person. So once I developed a rare genetic disease that quickly diminished my vision, I wanted to cling on to that independence for dear life. Outside of being driven to my jobs, I tried to power through the best I could on my own. I learned a particular way of angling weight plates at the gym to more easily load a bar. I learned to listen for how full my coffee cup was getting as I poured. I learned to better distinguish the right voices in a crowd. But little did I know, I could only do so much alone…
Fast-forward to walking down Taylor Street, Little Italy, Chicago. I tripped over stairs jutting into the sidewalk that I didn’t see…again. My sister, Hannah, who agreed to live with me while I attended graduate school and she finished her undergraduate degree, immediately said ”You need to get a cane. You have tripped and almost face planted on stairs four times now and you’ve only been here two days. The Chicago Lighthouse is a few blocks away, we are going to get you a cane.” I lamented and got a mobility cane. Alas, she was right. No more scared shuffling around trying not to fall. A few days later, she walked me to all my classes, making sure I knew how to get to the buildings and classrooms. Leaning on her allowed me to complete grad school and get my Master’s degree in Kinesiology while taking a lot of Disability Studies electives.
Next stop, Peoria, Illinois. No job, just living in a rental house above my brother Bryce. He got me to the gym, grocery store, interviews, all of it. When a huge cicada found its way out of a storm and into my apartment shrieking and misting water all over the living room, I was able to stroll downstairs and Bryce came up and figured out what monster had invaded my apartment. The same happened with roaches...and mice...and bats… But aside from monster hunting, he gave me enough help with everyday logistics that I was able to get two jobs as a trainer and another as an adjunct professor at the local community college.
During this time, I also was assigned an orientation and mobility specialist, Molly, who taught me how to navigate the overwhelming Peoria bus system and cross intersections SAFELY. Taking this help seriously allowed me to get myself to all my jobs on my own according to my own schedule.
All of these periods of dependence only helped to build the tools to become more independent and (hopefully) thrive. Nowadays, I live alone in an apartment, work several jobs, have gotten very into the sport of strongman, and run a company called Cane and Able Fitness which aims to spread accessible fitness information for the blind and visually-impaired. And guess who helps me with that, my brothers Bryce and Jacob, go figure.
I’m even writing this just after winning a strongman competition in the heavyweight category. My support system was there taking the best care of me and because of all our time together developing my quote-unquote independence, they anticipated my every need and helped me through a tough day of competition perfectly. The win was truly a team effort.
Independence isn’t a lonely island, it is just being able to more quickly adapt to this crazy world. So don’t worry that after you’ve accepted help from your support system that your newfound independence will take you away from people. It will only have drawn you closer together.
Cane and Able Fitness LLC will soon be offering remote programming through caneandablefitness.com for those with AND without visual-impairments. All readers of this article can mention the code “THRIVINGWITHDISABILITY” to receive 20% off their first 8 week personalized program.