Blind Hockey + Everyday Heroes


Part 0 - INTRODUCTION

Ok so this part was a last minute addition. I decided to put it in after having a conversation with a friend last week.

I told her I was working on a project about Kevin, a blind man who plays hockey.

She asked me "How old was he when he went fully blind?"

I told her he was 45.

She went silent and thought about that for a minute, and then she said, "If that happened to me, I would curl up in a little ball under the covers in my room and cry. How come he didn't do that?"

And that's the big question that this piece of writing and video asks - when life slaps us across the face with adversity, how do we get up and fight, and not hide under the covers in bed and cry about it?

Kevin: On February 14th when I was told that, it just basically shocked my system. I couldn't say the word blind in front of my family and friends. And I just kinda stopped talking. I tried to explain and I couldn't. I just sat there. For the first time in my life just at a loss for words... But always knowing in the back [of my mind] "Hey, this is just another adversity. I gotta figure it out." How am I gonna be, not necessarily a role model but...what person do I want to reflect to my kids as an example of how do you deal with adversity? When challenges occur, are you gonna roll over or are you gonna get up and fight? ...And so that was kind of the process. It made me go... "What do I need to do? And what can I do and how am I gonna show the world...that I can do anything I want to? I just can't see." So I'm not gonna limit myself based on all those things I told other people not to limit themselves on.



I'm not afraid, I'm not afraid (yeah)
To take a stand, it's been a ride
Everybody, I guess I had to
Go to that place
To get to this one
Now some of you
Might still be in that place
If you're tryin' to get out
Just follow me
I'll get you there

Not Afraid - Eminem



When I first started writing this story, I never intended for it to be as long as it is, but the more Kevin and I talked, the more I realized that describing life from the perspective of someone who's blind can't be done with a few punchy sound bites.

Also a heads up that you will be seeing the same dozen or so photos of Kevin throughout this video because believe it or not, the blind guy doesn't take selfies. (Before anyone gets up in arms about that joke, Kevin gave me permission to make it.)

I want to thank Kevin for sharing his story with me, so that I could share it with the world.

I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you find something in it that speaks to you.



Jasmin: I just want to make sure to do justice to...

Kevin laughs.

Jasmin: Well don't laugh, don't laugh.

Kevin: No you'll do fine...

Jasmin: I know you're so humble Kevin, but I want to do justice to your story because first of all I want to give you that but I also feel like if I can take your amazing inspiring story and put great words around it and that reaches out to other people and it inspires them, I think that's what we're both trying to do and so it's really important to me to tell the story well and do it in such a way that it makes an impact, right?

Kevin: Absolutely.



I'm not afraid
To take a stand (to take a stand)
Everybody (everybody)
Come take my hand come (come take my hand)
We'll walk this road together, through the storm
Whatever weather, cold or warm
Just letting you know that, you're not alone
Holla if you feel like you've been down the same road
Not Afraid - Eminem



Part 1 - THE GAME

I love the way hockey arenas smell; the scent of ice that gets refreshed between periods when the zamboni comes out.

As the players skate and their blades cut into the ice, there's a new burst of that cold clean smell, like it's own kind of time-release air-freshener. (I think the people at Febreeze should get on this - Hockey Arena Smell - for those of us who are bathed in happy nostalgia every time we smell an ice rink.)

IMAGE CREDIT: Decomurale

That afternoon as I walked into the arena, the cold smell of fresh ice was intermingled with the warm smell of coffee.

I smiled as I made my way to my seat. The moment I had walked through the entrance, the song Don't Stop Believing by Journey had started playing, almost as if it had been queued-up, just waiting for my arrival.

Along with the strains of the song, I heard the sound of skate blades on ice; the teams warming up. And I heard the slow shuffling of people coming in, finding seats, half of them holding white rubber-tipped canes, being led by the people they had arrived with.

The thing is, half the audience was blind or visually impaired, as were the players on both teams because this wasn't a typical hockey game. It was game two of the 2019 Eastern Regional Blind Hockey Tournament, Canada versus USA, taking place at the TD Centre in Ottawa, Canada where I live.

Ok, so did your brain just do what mine did when I found out that blind hockey is a thing? Did that idea short-circuit your motherboard and cause a temporary meltdown? And then when the system rebooted, were you flooded with questions, most if not all of which began with the word "How...?"

You and me both, so let me do what I can to answer those questions.

Before last summer, I had absolutely no idea that blind hockey existed. And then while I was in Chicago for a work-related trade show, I met Kevin and his seeing eye-dog, an adorable black labrador with soft brown eyes named Weaver. (Although he wasn't specifically named for his ability to navigate through a crowd, he does happen to be very skilled at this. As Kevin says, the name is a happy coincidence.)

Although Kevin knew some of my work colleagues, he and I had never met before. He took the time to patiently answer my questions, many of which were specifically about the logistics of working with a seeing-eye dog.

After Kevin and Weaver walked away, I regretted not having taken his contact information. He'd mentioned that he was flying to Ottawa in November for a hockey tournament and when I heard about blind people playing hockey, I thought "Now that's something I've gotta see."

I spent the rest of the the week kicking myself, and then the morning I left the hotel, on my way to the airport, I again felt a pang of regret.

But - unfortunately and fortunately - there was a thunderstorm that day in Chicago. All flights at O'Hare were cancelled or delayed, mine included. I went in search of breakfast before what was sure to be a very long day of travel, but when I walked into a little restaurant, who did I see sitting there but Kevin and Weaver. If their flight hadn't been cancelled they would have been long gone, but as it was they were still there and in the process of re-booking their journey home. I beelined straight for them and asked Kevin for his business card, and expressed my interest in coming to one of his games while he was in Ottawa. He said he would be glad to have me and any of my work colleagues come out to watch.

Later that week as I looked at his card, I thought about that moment. I mean what are the odds of finding anyone in the Chicago airport? Especially someone you weren't consciously looking for. I got that gut feeling that I've now come to understand is fate intermingled with the opportunity for important action, and I knew then that I had to write about this; about blind people playing hockey, and about Kevin and Weaver.

Which brings me back to where I started: listening to skate blades cutting through the ice as it released it's hypnotic wintery smell, and observing everything around me while I slowly froze my ass off in the arena. (Hey, it's a trade off - you want the magical smell, well it comes hand-in-hand with the cold.)

Kevin on the ice in Ottawa - red helmet

The people coming into the arena were clearly supporters: family and friends of the Team Canada players. Team USA obviously didn't have a very large fan-base, and having noticed that, I tried to use the volume of my cheers to make up for the lack of actual bodies. (Kevin later told me that he could hear me cheering. I'm not sure if that speaks to my lung capacity or Kevin's extremely developed sense of hearing. Maybe both?)

Although I am Canadian, I was there that afternoon to support Kevin and therefore Team USA. Sorry Canada, but this time I wasn't rooting for you. (Canada thumbed its nose at my lack of support and won the game anyhow.)

Here's what I wanted to know as I looked around the arena in those first few minutes before the game started: why weren't there more people?

The greeter had thanked me for coming, the tickets were free, and the stands were largely empty.

I couldn't imagine any of these things ever happening at an NHL game.

So where were all the people?

Is it because people didn't know about blind hockey? That had to be a big part of it. When I told my brother and a few friends (people who played hockey themselves and were well versed in the sport), they, like me, had no idea that blind hockey even existed, and again, like me, were both curious and fascinated about the logistics of playing the game when you couldn't see, well...much of anything, if anything at all.

And all of them said "That's something I would have wanted to see, had I known about it."

Obviously raising awareness was an important factor in garnering support in the form of fans to fill the stands.

There's another part of me that asked this question though "Is there anyone who would NOT want to see a hockey game BECAUSE the players are blind?"

If so, here's what I want to know: what's the exciting challenge in an NHL game? Is it anything beyond varying skill levels?

Truth be told, I'm not that interested in people who succeeded when they had everything going for them; I mean is anyone? But if you're someone who's had to overcome challenges to get to where you are now, that's a story I want to hear.

What can I say, I'm a die hard fan and supporter of Team Underdog.

As the last strains of "Don't Stop Believing" died out, I promised myself I never would, and that I would continue to find ways to ensure that others didn't either.

The game hadn't yet started, and I was already inspired. And isn't that what competition is all about?

To ignite the spark within each of us to be better.



Don't stop believin'
Hold onto that feelin'




Part 2 - BLIND HOCKEY

Alright, enough with the fluffy feelings Jasmin, tell us how this blind hockey thing actually works.

Kevin was kind enough to send me the rules beforehand, and I kept referring to them through the game.
Blind hockey is almost the same as the traditional game with a few minor exceptions:
  • The puck is made of steel and has ball bearings inside, which rattle to aid players to hear the puck while in motion. The puck is twice the height of a traditional puck and about the width of a small dinner saucer, and it's heavier.
  • The net is one-foot shorter in height, but has the same width.
  • One clean pass is required in the offensive zone prior to a shot. A special pass whistle is used to notify players and the goalie that a shot is possible.

Vision Levels
There are multiple vision classification levels on the ice:
  • B1 (Red Helmets and Goalies): Players who are totally blind or who have only light perception (meaning they have no functional vision). All goalies are required to be classified as a B1. (Kevin is the only B1 player at the National level in North America that plays defense as a B1.)
  • B2 (White Helmet): Players who have 5% vision or less.
  • B3 (Black Helmet): Players who have 10% vision or less. Although these players have the most vision, they are still considered legally blind.
As with traditional hockey, there are five players and one goalie - however there is a vision-based points system, where the non-goalie players cannot exceed 13 points on the ice. Example Three (3) B3s and two (2) B2s = 13 points. If there are ever too many points on the ice, that's a penalty.

For a penalty, you need to pull three points, so although you could pull a B2 and a B1, it's more likely that you would pull a B3.

Other than that, the rules are the same. Although there is no intentional checking permitted, it does happen regularly due to a team of blind skaters.


Later Kevin clarified for me that the visual classifications used in blind hockey are universal to all blind sports, however they're not how the ophthalmological society would interpret vision, or even how it would be interpreted by most people in the blind community. A B2 - 5% vision or less - would be stated as 20/600, a B3 - 10% vision or less would be stated as 20/200, but the average person wouldn't have any understanding of what that represents which is where the simpler percentage numbers come in.

I kept having to remind myself throughout the game that these players were playing with either limited vision or total lack of vision, because at times the plays were so agile that I forgot.

But at other times...well...there were very obvious reminders.
  • The goalie (B1 - totally blind) was led to the net by a black helmet player (B3 - 10% vision or less), and once in position he reached behind him with both arms to feel where the net was.
  • At one point, players rushed the net and slammed into the goalie knocking him over. The ref skated over, helped him up, and then handed him his stick.
  • There were moments of general clumsiness, like the body slamming already mentioned, and players tripping over one another.
  • One player made an absolutely perfect pass...to a player on the other team.
  • There were quite a few Hail Mary slap shots - shots so wild that I found myself thinking "There's no way that puck is going to end up in the net, but I wonder where it will go..." One such shot nearly flew into the stands, but instead hit the glass so hard it dented the puck. And for a puck that size and weight, it'll tell you how hard these shots were. Just because these guys are blind, doesn't mean they aren't strong.
  • There were lots of penalties. As Kevin later explained, it doesn't matter what the intention was behind the tripping. Although it might often be intentional in sighted games, in a blind game, it's generally accidental. However the refs don't care why you did it, they just care that you did, and so you're going to sit your ass down on the bench regardless because your physical limitation is no excuse for knocking someone over like a bowling pin.
HOW SOUND IS THE KEY TO EVERYTHING IN BLIND HOCKEY
  • There was a trilling sound that followed the play - the pass whistle - because as outlined in the rules, there has to be a clean pass before a player can take a shot on net. The purpose of the pass whistle is so that the players and the goalie can track the puck and prepare for a shot. (Between that and the rattling puck, I had no issue following the play which was a nice change. At a sighted game, I'm like the hockey version of that Verizon Wireless commercial - "Where's the puck? How about now? And Now? Now?") 
  • The players found one another through tapping their sticks on the ice. I noticed that one Team Canada player seemed to have a particular beat he used when he was open for a pass.
  • During the puck drop, the ref rattles the puck vigorously and then there's a split second of silence as it's falling before it makes contact with the ice. I imagine that it's precisely that moment of silence - in between all the noise - that alerts the players that they need to get ready to hit the puck.
By the way, blind hockey is for both men and women. There are a few women that play on Kevin's home team, and although there currently aren't any women playing at the national level, last year there were two.

I really enjoyed the game, much more than a sighted game to be honest. Maybe it was the novelty of it, or maybe it was because I was there rooting for someone I knew. Regardless of the reason, cheering as loud as I can at a blind hockey game is something I will gladly do again given the opportunity.

You know my favourite part of a hockey game though?

Now it only happens in the playoffs, and since the game I watched that afternoon was a playoff game I got to see it, but it's when the players line up at the end to shake hands with each other.

Because sighted or blind, it is, after all, just a game.

Kevin on the ice in Ottawa - red helmet - at the end of the game






Part 3 - AFTER THE GAME

Later that evening, I met Kevin and Weaver at their hotel.

Kevin is about 5'10, and has a medium athletic build with broad shoulders, short sandy brown hair peppered with gray, and he's clean cut. When I met him in Chicago, he was wearing a suit and he looked sharp. That night he was dressed more casually, but he stood out anyhow in the energy he carried with him.

He walks quickly and confidently despite the fact that he can't see where he's going. But more than that, he has a genuine warmth and an openness that immediately draws you in.

I hugged Kevin and then he let me say hi to Weaver. When service dogs are working, we're not supposed to pet them or pay any attention to them, but when the harness comes off, it's a different story. As soon as Weaver was unclipped, he bounced up and down all over me and I got to say hello.
Kevin & Weaver in California

It was a cold November night in downtown Ottawa, and fat snowflakes had started to fall and twirl in the wind. Although I was fine with this because it's my favourite time of year, I was concerned for Kevin and Weaver.

Kevin because he didn't have a toque and I thought his ears might freeze (when I suggested he bring one he asked "What's a...what was that word you used?" For all of the non-Canadians, a toque is the French word for winter hat). I wals also concerned for Weaver and his paws in the snow, knowing this wasn't something he was used to.

Kevin wasn't concerned; he said Weaver had seen snow a few times and loved it.

And he did indeed. As we walked into the market looking for a good place to eat, Kevin stopped a few times to make snowballs. He would throw them in the air and Weaver would jump up and try to eat them. Every time there was a patch of snow, Weaver would take himself and Kevin right through it, which was unfortunate for Kevin since he was wearing running shoes.

Before we headed out I asked if there were any special considerations for Weaver based on the type of restaurant we needed to go to. I wasn't sure if he needed extra space, or if we would require a special table. It was a Saturday night and I knew that a lot of places were likely to be packed.

Again, Kevin was un-concerned. He said that Weaver usually curled up at his feet under the table.

Which is exactly what he did. We walked into a restaurant, and I have to say, I was impressed by the fact that we had absolutely no issues. Everyone took us in stride. People looked but no one stared, and the only question Kevin got about Weaver was from the host that seated us who asked "Is he in training right now or is he in active service?"

That made me happy for Kevin, but even more so it made me feel happy for the state of the world. As awareness grows, so does tolerance. We had no issues because people know about seeing-eye-dogs and how to be around them.

Maybe we can, after all, change the world in such a way that everyone feels like there's space to be themselves.



Right here, right now,
There is no other place I'd wanna be.
Right here, right now,
Watching the world wake up from history.
Right Here Right Now - Jesus Jones



Part 4 - LOSING SIGHT

As we got settled and ordered drinks, Kevin outlined his vision history.

"By the time I was seven I was legally blind. I had tremendous peripheral vision, far beyond that what a normal person would use because...I unknowingly at that age just trained myself to maximize peripheral vision. So my field of vision was well beyond 180 degrees, however I had no centre vision. But as a kid you don't know that everybody doesn't have that. That's your norm, that's all you understand...You know, sat in the front row in school and had the big coke bottle glasses - I looked really cool. But I still couldn't see the chalkboard."

It wasn't until his younger sister started to show signs of visual challenges as well that his family started to think that this might be a genetic issue. He was diagnosed with Stargardt's Disease which is "an inherited disease passed along to children when both parents carry mutations of a gene associated with vitamin A processing in the eye... It affects approximately one in 10,000 people and is characterized by central vision loss early in life."

IMAGE CREDIT: All About Vision

Despite his growing vision loss, Kevin flourished.

"I was very fortunate that I had a very engaged family. We were close knit, we did things together. I think that's what set the appropriate foundation... My parents were ridiculously supportive in terms of facilitating my engagement in whatever I wanted to do. If someone said no, they would fight for the opportunity to enable me to continue to do what I wanted to do."

"We weren't spoiled, we weren't a rich family, but we were rich from the fact that we had a very loving environment... Everybody worked together. We all had roles in the family to help out and be supportive of one another and so it was a great family environment to grow up in. I look back and [think] "I was pretty damn lucky.""


(Can we pause for a moment to let that sink in? That the blind man just he was lucky? Has it sunk in yet? Ok good, moving on...)

Kevin says that growing up with an older brother helped motivate him, and made him competitive from an early age.

"I did everything I could to be just as good as he was.... Probably by the time I was six...could do everything he could do from an athletic perspective better than he could... Because I wanted to do what he could do, so when he would stop practising, I would keep going."

Kevin did everything he could to ensure that no one put barriers around him because of his vision.

"Most people didn't know I was blind, believe it or not. Now teachers I'd have to inform them that I couldn't see. And that would always create an awkward moment, so I'd make it easier. I'd be the best student in the class... So that would help drive away the myth... about the disability. It's not impossible, I'm possible."

His vision continued to deteriorate slowly but progressively. From a sports perspective, he went from B3 (10% vision or less) down to B2 (5% vision or less) while he was in high school. He also became more photophobic (aka light sensitive); things like fireworks would be a nightmare because as he said "they would cause an explosion in [his] mind."

He was about 24 or 25 when - overnight - he realized he could no longer notice his feet. That was a frightening time for him.

"Although I had a cane, I didn't use it at the time. I was pretty effective at navigating, and just other context clues to get me around life. But then when that happened, I started using the cane a little bit. Eventually I learned how to interpret all the information relatively quickly and then I went back to not using the cane regularly. And so I kinda just BS'd my way through vision because it was just easier than...you know, it wasn't the stares it was the...you were treated differently. I don't care if someone stares or gawks, what have you, that didn't bother me. It was that the level of treatment would be different. You were, unfortunately, seen in a different light. Some people would be super helpful, and more people, in my opinion, were less helpful. Almost as if you had a sickness to a certain extent. You know if I went to sit down on a subway with a cane, people would get up and move."

He had to re-learn things, like walking and not tripping over curbs, and how to navigate through life all over again.

After that, his vision became relatively stable until he was 40, when, on a beach-vacation with his family, his eyes started bothering him and he was having headaches.

It was no longer Stargardt's Disease, he was now diagnosed with Cone-Rod Dystrophy. The difference was that he was starting to lose his peripheral vision as well - Stargardt's Disease affects the centre of the eye, or the cones, whereas Cone-Rod Dystrophy impacts both central and peripheral vision, hence Cone-Rod.

As it later turned out though, he'd always had Cone-Rod Dystrophy but it was misdiagnosed partially based on Kevin's ability to use the limited pockets of his periphery in a more effective manner than the doctor's had ever seen anyone else do.

Luckily he had a very strong network of family and friends who supported him through this further deterioration in his vision.

He had a trip to Prague scheduled within a month of that diagnosis. He was traveling with a friend who insisted that they take the trip anyhow. His friend said "I'm gonna make you do this. We'll work together, we'll figure it out....[I will help you] but I will not hold your hand."

So they went to Prague, and Kevin crossed one more thing off of his bucket list.

Everyone, regardless of their circumstances, has the right to have a bucket list.



And when the night is cold and dark,
You can see, you can see light,
'Cause no one can take away your right to fight
And to never surrender.
Never Surrender - Corey Hart



Part 5 - WHAT MAKES YOU DIFFERENT MAKES YOU SPECIAL

Kevin has blue eyes; I didn't know this until the moment we were sitting across from one another in the restaurant that evening. When I'd met him in Chicago, his eyes were blood red because of the contacts he'd been wearing.

I asked him what they were for.

Kevin: They help create contrast. So basically they're like sunglasses. Because it creates enhanced contrasting for light and dark situations. The majority of the day I'm either wearing sunglasses, or contacts, or both. And they're sports contacts... Golfers use a different colour of blues and greens to help them pick up the undulation in the green on the golf course so they can improve their putting. So there's a science behind it as well. I don't wanna just look like that guy from Twilight.

Jasmin: I love that you know Twilight.

Kevin: Well I try to be hip, but it's very hard at my age.

Kevin is 47-years young and more full of life than most people I know, regardless of how old they are.


I tried to talk to him as I would any other person, but I don't know if I succeeded because the thing is, Kevin is special. Not "short-bus" special (as he put it), not because he can't see, but because of who he is. He has many great qualities, but one of the things that stands out the most about him is how much he laughs. Kevin laughs a lot. He finds humour in everything and never misses an opportunity to make a joke, often self-deprecating. He walks through life looking for a reason to smile - how many people do you know like that? Like I said, special.

Although he can't see with his eyes, that doesn't mean he doesn't see. He always looks in your direction when he's talking to you and even thought his eyes don't focus on yours, everything else is focused on whoever is in front of him in that moment. Because of that, he sees and perceives more than most people. Although sighted people can see, they often don't see in that they don't always take everything in, life doesn't fully register.

Kevin takes everything and everyone in. In a world that is hurried, in a world that often doesn't have the time to stop and take in what's going on around it, being around Kevin is like stepping into an alternate universe; one where time stops and nothing is real except that moment and that conversation because his desire coupled with a practical need to take in what's around him creates a stillness that facilitates being present in the here and now.

His blindness is not what classifies him; it's a part of who he is, but it's not who he is. Being around him only means finding ways to adjust to his reality and making that work in the context of any particular situation.

We all do this everyday, but often in such small ways that we don't notice we're doing it. We have a friend with a particular diet - vegetarian for example - so we'll pick a restaurant that has options which accommodate them.

We make these adjustments everyday without realizing it. Being around someone who's blind is the same thing: it's about adjusting the situation to fit that person's needs.

Some of you might be thinking at this moment (with righteous indignation) "I can't believe she compared being blind to being a vegetarian!!" What I'm trying to do is normalize blindness. Because isn't that the problem that anyone who's different struggles with? The fact that they're made to feel "not normal" because of their difference?

The only way around that is to change societal views so that different becomes the norm - so that no one treats a blind person any differently than they would a vegetarian; so that people don't feel the need to get up and move when a blind man with a cane sits next to them on the subway. Blindness is not a communicable disease any more than being a vegetarian is - you can't catch loss of vision by sitting next to a blind man any more than you can catch a passionate love for kale from sitting beside a vegetarian.

When I'd met Kevin and Weaver at the hotel, I had asked if they were okay walking into downtown (a good 20-minute trek) or if they prefered to Uber. And I asked how much space Weaver would need in a restaurant. And I asked Kevin if he had any dietary restrictions. I was trying to do my best to adapt the situation to fit his reality. I didn't know what he needed, so I asked him and he told me.

Being around someone who's blind - or different in any way - can really be as simple as asking "What do you need to be okay in this situation?" Instead of being afraid of what we don't know, we can just ask.

The other thing that's helpful to remember around, well, anybody, is that every person who's in our lives has a different role, and no one person can fill every role. The key to living harmoniously is in recognizing the roles that different people are there to play so that we don't cause ourselves and the other person frustrations by trying to force them to fulfill a role they weren't cast for in the script of our life story. So although Kevin isn't the friend who's going to help you pick out wallpaper patterns, he's going to be the friend who talks, listens, encourages, and motivates. He'll also play hockey with you.

Although Kevin doesn't see, he senses. He tried to explain.

"I perceive information that no one has ever thought about. I haven't seen what you've seen; I see awareness... If you see someone in your periphery, you don't really see them, but you have an awareness of them. That's what I see divided by 100... [And] I hear the way people move."

He hears the way people move - isn't that something all of us notice? We may not be consciously aware of it, and we definitely aren't attuned to the movement of those around us the way Kevin is, but now that I mention it, can't you think of at least one person who's sounds of movement you're familiar with?

In my former job, I had a manager that I worked closely with and I got to know the way he sounded to the point where it freaked him out a little.

He had particular way he would open the door when he came into the office, and I could feel the air change when he walked in. He always walked quickly and purposefully, and I knew it was him without needing to visually validate it. Without turning away from my computer, everyday I would say "Good morning Chris."

He asked me once "How do you know it's me without turning around?"

Because I can hear the way you move.

So what does the world look like when the people and places in it are identified by the way that they sound instead of the way that they look? What is the auditory picture of the world?

"It's very much the same, but just done in different ways. So you read facial expressions to see if someone is rolling their eyes and is pissed off or frustrated or excited or happy or sad. I'm going to pick it up in your speech patterns, your breathing patterns, your movements... Because I'm not wasting my time trying to see what you're saying, I'm listening to what you're doing and saying... That also comes from my experience of being able to see in the past, so now I can interpret these auditory elements into my experiences and it gives me both those situations [a visual image and a sound-based image]."

Kevin outlined one of the most problematic situations in his now sound-based world.

Kevin: "When there's a lot of noise, it becomes similar to you walking into a dark room. I can't interpret all the noise effectively to navigate that visual perspective."

Jasmin: "Do you remember colours in such a way that..."

Kevin: "Vividly...vividly. However I don't see colour [now]. I see light and dark. I remember red probably the most and so I interpret seeing red sometimes. And oranges... I recall blue, like sky blue. That's something I will remember. But I remember all the other colours, green and yellow. I was good at the 8-box of crayons, not the 64-[pencils] with the sharpener."

Jasmin: "So if I say to you that I have green eyes and brown hair, that's something you can still relate to?"

Kevin: "Yes. And so for me it would be...you have the eyes of a cat and brown hair...But for me now, there are no eyes and the hair is dark."

Jasmin: "I'm ok with having cat eyes."

Kevin: "I think they're very cool."

He compared his current vision to looking through a spaghetti strainer, and said that he now has only a few holes left on the outside edges.

"Covering up all the centre of your strainer, and then covering up the majority of the visual..the outside of the strainer as well. So now I have a kaleidoscope in that area, where I see light, and now I just see light in different areas... it's just managing light perception."

IMAGE CREDIT: Unsplash 

Kevin is both a great listener and a great talker. As we ordered dinner, we took turns sharing our life stories. Truth be told, he asked me about mine before we really got into his.

I told him about my travels; about how at age 28, I'd quit my government job, cashed out my pension, sold everything I owned and moved to France. And then how I'd traveled the world for years after that, coming back home to Ottawa to work before taking off again to places like Egypt, Argentina, and Mexico.

He commented on my bravery. "The fluidity that you navigate through your life experiences. I don’t think I could do that."

I shrugged it off. "It's not that I wasn't afraid; that first leap of faith I took, when the plane landed on the tramac in Nice, I was so overcome with fear that I thought I was going to throw up. But I had gotten to a point in my life where I was so profoundly unhappy that a drastic life change seemed like the only option. I was more afraid of the known than the unknown."

His face lit up with a big smile. "I like that. More afraid of the known than the unknown. I'm gonna use that....[Still] I don't think I could do what you did."

I was confused when he said that. "What is it that you see in me and the things I've done that for you, a blind man who's overcome so many challenge, feels like it's beyond you?"

He took some time to think about it. "The fact that you can go in and start new chapters and do it with grace and success is a unique capability. You remind me of [that movie] Catch Me If You Can with Leonardo DiCaprio, where all of a sudden [you're like] "You know I'll fly this plane...." I don't have that high-wire act comfort-level..So the fact that you have the ability, strength, potentially stupidity - I don't know if that's the right word - to jump off a cliff and start a whole new venture, and have that much confidence in yourself is awe-inspiring."

(Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I would like to point out that the blind man who plays hockey just called me stupid; a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.)

Kevin had said "I don't think I could do what you did." And although I didn’t say it in that moment, I thought the same about him. I don't think I could have done what he did either. What he does everyday.

I was reminded of something in that moment: the problems we're faced with in this life are given to us because we're capable of handling them. Most of us, given the option, wouldn't want to trade our challenges with anyone else's.

Be honest - sometimes, when hearing the problems of others - aren't you secretly grateful for your own life and your own problems? Aren't you glad you're not dealing with whatever they're dealing with? Well guess what? Those people are thinking the exact same thing about you.

When we have moments of struggle, it's good to remember that everybody has problems. The solution, therefore, isn't to try to get rid of our problems, but to make the best of the problems we have with the knowledge that we wouldn't really want to trade places with anyone else.



Please, would you one time let me be myself,
So I can shine,
With my own light.
Let me be myself.
Please, would you one time let me be myself,
So I can shine,
With my own light.
Let me be myself for a while.
Let Me Be Myself - 3 Doors Down



Part 6 - THE MOMENTS THAT DEFINE US

Over dinner that night, Kevin told me about two moments that stand out the most to him in how profoundly they impacted the way he lives.

The first was when he was nine years old; he was misdiagnosed as having not one, but two brain tumors.

It's the months between the original diagnosis, and the discovery of the error that really changed him.

"It made me want to live every minute as if it were my last because I thought my last was coming up very quickly.... My grandfather got tumours and now he's gonna pass away. So as a young kid interpreting all that information was probably a mountain... Initially caused me to have a perception that life was going to be very finite. So I want to do everything I possibly can and enjoy every moment of life. Because I thought I was you know, a goner...not knowing what the timeline would be."

Despite being told later on that it had been a mistake, that it was a misdiagnosis and that he did not have any brain tumours at all, he didn't believe it right away.

"You know for that couple weeks or months before I figured it out that it wasn't the case, scared me into living straight if you will, I don't know. I mean the fear went away. You think you're going to die and you come to terms with that, so having a vision problem wasn't a big deal."


He said he matured very quickly because of that experience.

The second life defining moment happened when he was 20 years old.

He'd been in a relationship with his girlfriend at the time for two years. But the relationship ended as a result of the fact that her mother was concerned because of the issues with his vision.

"The mother was concerned... She had significant concerns about my capabilities... The negative perception of what would happen if she [her daughter] continued her relationship with me because of my disability."

"Relationships come and go, I get that. But it was one that was so important to me... It was a relationship that didn't end on our terms. And it was a situation where I can't control that scenario. And I thought as a young adult that I was more mature, and I could handle it, and I couldn't... It's probably the darkest time in my life. Actually it is the darkest time in my life... The impact it had."


When Kevin said that, I asked him what specifically was the impact.

"It made me stop believing in love for a period of time... It probably created a shield,...probably created a greater defence mechanism, because it's not something I could control. I couldn't control other people's perceptions... So recognizing vulnerabilities that I can't overcome because they're not MY perceptions."

"It probably made me a little more, I'm gonna use the term aggressive but I mean that in a positive way, like competitive, aggressive at life. Where I'm not gonna be held back... That's one of my strengths and probably could be a weakness is that I can be aggressive in terms of "How do I make this happen?" I'm not gonna stand down because somebody believes that it should be done in a different way particularly if it's a vision-based perception. I'm not going to be held hostage to their perception.. So it gave me that - once again - that drive to succeed. And not be limited."


Thankfully, while he was in college, Kevin met the woman who is now his wife. He describes her as remarkable, beautiful, and intelligent; as someone with a tremendous heart who never let his vision become an issue, and who never allowed him to use it as a crutch. As he says "She helped me become the man I am today, to be the father of our children, and she's the love of my life."



You didn't think that I'd come back
I'd come back swinging
You tried to break me, but you see
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller
Doesn't mean I'm lonely when I'm alone
What doesn't kill you makes a fighter
Footsteps even lighter
Doesn't mean I've over cuz you're gone

Stronger - Kelly Clarkson



Part 7 - THE LIGHTS GO OUT

In 2016, over the course of a few months, his vision started deteriorating rapidly.


"Each day I lost a little bit more of what I had the day before. Almost like a setting sun."

Because of this, he was routinely going to the doctor's.

"I went from that process of "Hey, is this fixable, what can we do to stop it?" to "How do I live with it?"

Then on Valentine's Day - which was also his son's 10th birthday - his doctor made the final pronouncement: "You're no longer just legally blind, you are blind. When I was told that, it just basically shocked my system..."

IMAGE CREDIT: Washington Blind Hockey Club

I asked Kevin to define what being fully blind meant since he didn't have that much vision to begin with.

"It would be like, if you lost your fingertips, you can't feel, but you can still grab things. Now I've taken your hand off, and so now I don't have a hand so I can't grab or shake somebody's hand, but I still have an arm - so there's still things I can do with that arm. And now the arm is gone."

Kevin had difficulty sharing this latest development with his loved ones.

"I couldn't say the word blind in front of my family and friends. And I just kinda...I stopped talking. I tried to explain what it was like. And I couldn't. I just sat there. For the first time in my life, just at a loss for words... Tears rolled down my face and I felt like I had a bowling ball in my throat. I couldn't swallow and I didn't know what to say."

He couldn't help but think about the things he was losing.


"That's the last time I'll see you smile. That's the last time I'll see this or that was the last time I saw that... I've lost that opportunity of something that I enjoyed so much...And there were so many things I wanted to see..."

Kevin struggled to come to terms with his diagnosis.


"It was scary. It was fearful. It was hellish... I was emotionally unstable with the consequences of the loss... My wife, she caught me breaking down multiple times. Just in tears, chest heaving, and bawling and frustrated and angry and fearful and all those things that come with grief. And then she helped put the perspective that 'This isn't all on you, this is on all of us.' Which made me feel worse but also made me feel better... I do have a family that is supportive and engaged and loving and we'll get through this process."

Once again, Kevin wasn't going to be held down.

"What do I need to do? And what can I do and how am I gonna show the world...that I can do anything I want to? I just can't see. So I'm not gonna limit myself based on all those things I told other people not to limit themselves on."

Kevin is a problem solver, and this situation was no exception.

"How do I manage this process? Because I have two boys and I don't want them to see someone who has a challenge - particularly in their immediate household - that would show them it's ok to give up... How do I teach others to deal with adversity if I can't deal with it myself?... It just took some time. There were still rough nights, there was still frustration... It's like training for something; you know there's still gonna be setbacks and adversity and frustration and sweat and tears and so that helped drive me, but always knowing in the back [of my mind] 'Hey this is just another adversity, I gotta figure it out.'' How am I gonna be, not necessarily a role model...but what person do I want to reflect to my kids as an example of 'How do you deal with adversity?' And when challenges occur, are you gonna roll over or are you gonna get up and fight and participate and be engaged and be successful...?"

IMAGE CREDIT: Washington Blind Hockey Club

Kevin started training in earnest in order to adapt to his new reality.

"So it just required me to push myself... I didn't sleep, but maybe an hour and a half a night for about a month, and I would do everything I could to figure out how to make this work. When people went to bed, I'd get up and I'd go practice different elements of living, and navigating, and figuring it out all over again. And managing these two or three small points of light in my eyes that would give me a different kaleidoscope that it would take some time for my brain to reinterpret, and go..."

Kevin credits the strong support network he has with making it through this challenging time.

"On February 14th, when I was told that [I was fully blind], it just basically shocked my system. And it took me a little while to recover from that shock. So my family was the defibrillator, the community was the defibrillator... And it got me back on track. It made me appreciate everything I had, it made me appreciate where I'd come from."

Kevin outlined the questions and challenges he faced in once again re-learning how to navigate through life.

"I think I'm in a passable clearance and I walk straight into the door next to it."

"Or just reaching for things, where I'm interpreting something to be closer than it is and it's not."

"Eating would be another example. How do you not eat like a slob?"

"Or pouring a glass of milk; how do I know when I'm at the top? Now I need to wash my fingers before I put my finger in my milk. So I pour to that point until where I feel the level of water or liquid hitting my finger. Oh I'll stop there so that I don't spill it all over the place."

"Make sure you don't have Preparation H next to your toothpaste because you don't want to brush your teeth with that."


"Or medication - making sure that you're taking the right pills."


"What colour shirts do I have?H ow do I fold my laundry to make sure that I know that these are white t-shirts or these are just athletic shirts. Or these are black socks, or these are brown socks and these are white socks. So I don't go out with one brown shoe and one red shoe or black shoe - those things - how do I manage those things so that I continue to dress professionally for a work environment?"


"So those simple life tasks. All those little things that people take for granted."


In spite of all of the work Kevin put into re-learning how to navigate through life, he didn't feel at ease in his new reality.

"My confidence in terms of navigation was limited. I didn’t feel comfortable manoeuvring through elements of life... I was just much slower in getting around... But what I realized [then] is that maybe it's time to get a dog."



Listen as your day unfolds
Challenge what the future holds
Try and keep your head up to the sky
Lovers, they may cause you tears
Go ahead release your fears
Stand up and be counted
Don't be ashamed to cry.
You gotta be
You gotta be bad, you gotta be bold
You gotta be wiser, you gotta be hard
You gotta be tough, you gotta be stronger
You gotta be cool, you gotta be calm
You gotta stay together
All I know, all I know, love will save the day.

You Gotta Be - Des'Ree



Part 8 - A FURRY FRIEND

On February 3rd of 2019, Kevin came home with Weaver; almost exactly three years to the day of being officially diagnosed as fully blind.

Weaver comes from Guide Dogs for the Blind an organization based out of San Rafael, California. There's a documentary on Netflix called "Pick of the Litter" which features this organization as well as the training process dogs go through in order to become working guides. (I dare you to watch the movie without crying at least once.)

The training process that each dog goes through is rigorous, and the pass or fail criteria is very strict, as it should be since each dog that is paired ultimately acts as that person's eyes; it's their job to not only guide but to keep their person safe.

What I found most interesting about the pass or fail criteria is that one of the final exams involves testing whether the dog will deliberately disobey a command in order to keep their person out of danger. These dogs are not only expected to know how to obey commands, but also to be able to discern a situation in which the command ought not to be obeyed. I know right? Smart dogs. (Incidentally, where could we get that kind of training for humans...?)

Kevin told me that about 60-percent of the dogs don't make the cut - and watching the documentary validated this statistic. The litter featured in the film consisted of five puppies, only two of which went on to become guides. Things such as temperament, distractibility (squirrel!), trainability (or lack thereof) are all things that can disqualify a dog from being an appropriate guide.

According to Wikipedia: "The most popular breed used globally [for guiding] is the Labrador Retriever. This breed has a good range of size, is easily kept due to its short coat, is generally healthy and has a gentle but willing temperament."

Weaver is a black lab with soft brown eyes and the sweet disposition of an angel...until the harness comes off, and then he's as energetic and bouncy as a toddler on a sugar high.


Getting a guide dog is not easy and it involves a lengthy application process. Kevin said that from the time he applied to the time he got Weaver it took 18 months. In fact, Weaver had just been born when Kevin submitted his application, so unbeknownst to either of them, they each spent that time preparing to meet one another.

The application process as outlined on the Guide Dogs for the Blind Website covers all aspects of your life, from who you are to how you live.

"There's a series of conversations and applications that go into kind of what your need is. In that process, you need to make sure that there's a sufficient amount of work for the dog. They go through what does your daily life involves in terms of how many steps are you taking effectively, where [are] you walking, where are you going, what are you navigating, how far is it to x, y, and z, to ensure that, there's an appropriate level of work...for the service animal."

"You need to be active. You need to be engaged in society in terms of your mobility."
"So if you don’t...and I sit at home and I go to the grocery store once a week - probably not something that they would consider. However if it’s something where you’re active where you go to the gym and you go to the grocery store daily, you go to doctors appointments, you’re constantly moving so there’s a level of appropriate service requirement, then they will consider you for the process."

"It's gotta be a level of service that, you know, is for mobility. So it’s a mobility based service animal. That is key."

"So that application process was about 18 months and you go through everything you could imagine from a health perspective from complete physical to everything you eat and drink and how you live your life, and your household environment, do you have a fenced yard, what do you have, what are the living conditions, so they’re going to evaluate everything to make sure that you have an appropriate pairing with the service animal. So how they create the mix I don’t know but the dog I have was a perfect match so whatever they do from there a little eHarmony process all the dotted lines seem to connect well."

Kevin was initially nervous about the process of adjusting to having a guide dog.

"Friends had described it as having a toddler; so that's a bit of work, tremendous joy, but not knowing what it would entail, a little bit of angst. And then as I started going through the training process, there's a wealth of educational material that needs to be absorbed - and it was more than I thought - significantly more than I thought. And so I got there and I felt kind of nervous about the process and day one my nerves increased dramatically when I was out at Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Francisco when they told me the approximate cost based on time and energy devoted to this dog already. He said about $100,000. So that increased my nerves instantly. I'm like, "I don't want to screw this dog up. He's well trained, he's smarter than I am, how do I manage this process?""

Kevin describes the first time he met Weaver.

"It was kind of this, you know awkward introduction - like "All right, this might possibly be the dog that you live with for the next 10 to 12 years, and he’s going to guide you around..." And you're like "Hi." Weaver made it real quick because he popped up and gave me a big lick on the face - to say "I’m yours." And it wasn't like he even looked back. He's like "All right, I know what I’m here to do and you’re my guy and let’s work it out together.""

"So the bond for him was so immediate because he's an attention hog, he just loves people. And so that made that process so much easier... And for me I think it was important to have a dog that had a personality similar to mine; a bit extroverted, somebody who likes to get into the mix of life and just go. Weaver fit that mold, and so the bond developed relatively quickly and then the independence started. And not that I wasn’t independent before... You know a cane and people help define where those obstacles are, whereas Weaver just avoids them..."

Kevin says that aside from the freedom that having a guide dog has given him, one of the biggest advantages to having Weaver is that the intense migraines he used to have are all but gone.

"It's so liberating. My headaches have dropped probably you know 80%... Walking would create headaches and fatigue... The physical exertion of trying to...perceive and see and interpret all that information in a safe way...because I'm so concentrating on the sounds of the traffic, the sound of people walking... That's probably the greatest aspect of it, is my migraines have gone down 80+ percent."

"Now I can concentrate on other things...because Weaver's doing the navigating..."


"Until Weaver, where he became my eyes in navigation, I never wore headphones. I never listened to music when I walked around... With Weaver now, I listen to books, music, have conversations on the phone while I'm walking and I have no concern because I've transferred all that responsibility to Weaver. And thankfully he does it happily for a little kibble."


As I listened to Kevin talk about his life with Weaver, the two things that stood out were the freedom and the friendship he had found thanks to his four-legged companion.

"So he weaves me through life, through our independence in a very efficient and collaborative way. But also, I’ve got a friend at my side... A friend that really likes to cuddle. And so when I get home and I need somebody to warm me up on the couch, he’s already there... I did not anticipate there to be a bond that occurred quickly, however due to the ridiculous social nature of Weaver..."

Weaver is definitely social.

When I had first arrived at the hotel, Kevin asked if I wanted to say hi to Weaver. (Did he really need to ask? I hadn't seen that furry face since Chicago.)

When he unhooked the harness, Weaver jumped all over me excitedly.

Kevin: "His puppy raiser was a female veterinarian and many of her interns. Weaver's kryptonite I guess, is women. Call it what you will, maybe it's an excuse for me to engage - but he certainly has a particular demographic he sways to."

I laughed.

Jasmin: "So you get to live vicariously through Weaver?"

Kevin: "Oh yeah...I'm his wingman."

I didn't have the heart to tell Kevin that, with his big chocolate-brown eyes, Weaver probably didn't need a wingman.


Although the world, and specifically the ladies, might be looking at Weaver, Weaver himself only has eyes for Kevin.

The way that Weaver looks at Kevin is with complete love and worshipful adoration; as if he knows that Kevin is his reason for being. Somehow he knows, and somehow he's grateful for that.

You can tell Weaver is still very young because there's also a quality of approval seeking in his look, something that will most likely fade as he gets older and becomes more confident in his job.

It's difficult not to fall in love with Weaver (I personally didn't put up any resistance). I only felt grateful that he'd been trained to use his powers for good, because with those eyes, I would have traded my savings for a lifetime supply of chew toys and dog biscuits just to keep him happy.

The only challenging part about being around Weaver is remembering not to pet him. "Sorry buddy, no cuddles while you're working." (I failed at this however and ended up with my hand on his soft furry head once that evening, but quickly yanked it away apologetically when I realized what I was doing.)

Throughout dinner he kept shifting and re-positioning himself, trying to get more comfortable under the table. Everytime he did, I felt a warm nuzzling against the side of my thigh. Now was that an accident or was Weaver an opportunist - like the guy who does the yawn and stretch on a date at the movies? Only Weaver knows. He is a very smart dog though, so I wouldn't put it past him.

"Oh I'm so sorry...was that your thigh again...you'll have to excuse me..." #sorrynotsorry

I took a picture of Kevin and Weaver that evening, as we were walking back to the hotel. You'll notice in the photo that both Kevin's right foot and Weaver's back right paw are blurred. That's how in sync they are; they move through life together in the same rhythm.


Witnessing that kind of connection was inspiring because it reminded me of the depth which is possible for connection between beings; a connection which is so profound that it is unnamable. I can only say that it is there, it is real and that personally, it gives me hope.

Weaver loves Kevin. And Kevin loves Weaver. Whatever pairing algorithm Guide Dogs for the Blind uses, it worked beautifully in this case because Kevin and Weaver are indeed a match made in heaven.



When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we'll see
No I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me

Stand By Me - Ben E. King



Part 9 - WALK A MILE

What would it be like to be blind?

Is that something you can imagine? I think we generally take sight for granted, as we do all of our senses for that matter.

As I was writing this piece, I would often stop, close my eyes, and touch my face to see if I could "see" it. If I didn't know what I looked like, would the feeling of the contours of my face be enough for me to conjure a mental image of myself? And if I was blind, what would mental images even look like? What would my concept of myself be based on?

I can't answer those questions because I'm not blind. I can only imagine that appearance would be nearly or entirely non-existent on the list of things I would judge myself on.

So what would it be like to live in the dark?

There's a restaurant in Montreal called "O Noir" (French for "In the Dark"). The entire wait staff is blind or visually impaired, but aside from that, the unique thing about this restaurant is that sight is also taken away from the customers for the evening because they eat entirely in the dark.

I've eaten there, and when they say "in the dark," they mean it. Most of the time in a dark room, there are still cracks of light emanating from somewhere; there are discernible degrees of darkness that help us find our way around an unlit room. But not in this restaurant; it was a pitch black so complete that I found it truly disorienting.

From the restaurants' website: "When you eat without your sight, your remaining senses are heightened to savour the smell and taste of food. Onoir does more than fire the imagination and stimulate the senses. After a while in complete darkness, customers gain a better understanding of what it’s like to be blind."

When I ate there, I ordered a meal that I would have ordered in any restaurant: a medium-rare rib-eye steak with mashed potatoes and caesar salad, with chocolate cake for dessert. (My date that night told me I had ordered a "man's meal" - not sure what that meant, but he was an irritating little wuss prone to making stupid comments, so he didn't last long in my life.)

I had ordered the meal I wanted without giving any thought to the potential problems I would have trying to eat it in the dark.

Think about it: how do you cut a steak you can't see? I mean really think about: close your eyes and picture yourself trying to discern where to stick your fork when you can't see the steak, and where to put your knife in relation to a fork that you again, can't see. And, as I discovered that night, medium-rare steak is harder to cut than well done because the meat hasn't been toughened up by the cooking process so it had a tendency to slide around the plate.

IMAGE CREDIT: Girls Can Grill

I managed to cut a few very tiny pieces of meat, and other pieces so big I nearly choked. The mashed potatoes were manageable, (no cutting involved) aside from the fact that again, I couldn't accurately gauge the size of the portion I was putting in my mouth. The caesar salad was a disaster though. "Crouton down, I repeat crouton down..." I think I left a trail of breadcrumbs worthy of Hansel & Gretel that night.

The chocolate cake I don't remember struggling with, because I ate it the way I usually eat cake: like a hoover vacuum cleaner because I'm somehow afraid it's going to grow legs and run away. Although I do remember feeling grateful for the sticky icing because it helped "glue" the cake pieces to my fork, and by that point in the evening, I was already wearing enough of my dinner.

Eating a meal. It's something so simple. And if you can see then it is. But if you can't, then navigating a dinner plate is a minefield of hurdles. I will fully admit that my fingers got involved; I had to touch my food repeatedly to find it on the plate, to gauge where to put my utensils, and to try to determine how much food was left. And the thing is, I was in the dark, but so was everyone else meaning that no one was watching me digging around my plate like a little gopher. But for a blind person in a restaurant, they know that although they can't see, everyone else can, and that a lot of those people are very likely staring at them.

When all eyes turn on you, that's something you feel. You don't need to see it to know that it's happening.

The night Kevin and I had dinner, he ordered a hamburger. He cut it in half, and then he picked up and ate each half, one at a time. Aside from that one moment when he used his knife to cut the burger, there was no further need for utensils. A sighted person doesn't usually cut their burger; they grab it whole, and put it down between bites. I don't remember him putting either half of the burger down once it was in his hand.

IMAGE CREDIT: Mashed

Kevin has good table manners, so you wouldn't know by looking at him in a restaurant that he was blind. Throughout dinner, he wasn't - pardon the expression - searching blindly for anything. When he reached for his glass, he knew where it was and he just grabbed it. He had both a drink glass and a water glass, and he positioned each in such a way that he knew where they were, and which one he was drinking from when he reached for either.

Here's what I wanted to know: did his desire to eat meals requiring the use of utensils decline as his sight declined because of the challenges they would present? When he orders in a restaurant now, does he get the meal he really wants, or the one that's going to be the easiest to eat? How much of his meal selection was calculated?

From the little I knew about Kevin and the analytical way his mind works, when I reflected on that meal after the fact I felt certain that he'd carefully considered all aspects of eating out at some point, and that he'd trained himself accordingly which is why theses things would go unnoticed by someone who wasn't paying attention.

I later asked him all of these questions.

"You know I think about those things, I don't know if other blind people do, but I'm thinking about those things in that initial the start of my meal until I know where everything is. So I'm gonna see with my hands to figure out where everything is or using the utensils to figure out kinda what's where on the plate... So yeah it becomes kind of a game of "Alright, where is everything?"... When the food is put out there, if there's a thing of ketchup on your plate, like a little bowl of it, I don't know that. So I'm trying to figure out what's there because I don't want to turn around and stick my fingers in the ketchup..."

"I'm not making my dinner decisions based on that in that setting. There might be settings where I'm going to go out and go"What is easiest to do?"... Sometimes I'll make a business decision if you will, on the environment."


"You know I don't see anything on that plate and I'm trying to figure out where everything is. So I'm cutting it to kind of compartmentalize it and get it into a reasonable shape because I don't know if I got it and half of the tail end is falling out. It's just challenging so I put it in a more reasonable package that I can now manage..."


Before meeting Kevin, I thought, as I'm sure is the case with most people, that blind meant blind - as in cannot see anything, it's pitch black - just like it was eating in that restaurant in Montreal. Well it turns out that those of us who believe that are collectively wrong.

"B3 is effectively considered legal blindness, the start of legal blindness. But as soon as you mention the word, legal blindness, people put on their own blinders, and have a perception of what that is and they frequently think 'that's darkness.' And that's not the case... You have people walking around who are completely fine, and are legally blind, and they do all these wonderful and amazing things, and they just have no peripheral vision. But they can read straight ahead...and do all those other things they just can't see to the side at all... You get into these weird nuances of how do you define vision?... And it's hard to undo people's perceptions."

Based on this explanation, I summarized what I thought I understood. "To clarify: vision levels are like a kaleidoscope in that the degrees of vision and what they represent are different for everyone. Just because two people are classified at the same vision level, it does NOT mean that they see the same thing."

Kevin said that was correct, and then he expanded.

"So those are two distinct aspects of vision; one's acuity, and one's visual field. So acuity is...basically it's like looking through a set of binoculars, you don't see anything other than what you're directly looking at and everything on the side doesn't exist in your periphery. So some people's visual field is reduced to 10% but their visual acuity is perfect. So they're working with blinders literally that kind of isolate their vision to directly ahead..And for me I had no centre vision so I don't have the acuity and then my peripheral...started to go away... I never had the acuity and then the field went away."

IMAGE CREDIT: Shutterstock

That restaurant in Montreal, O Noir, has elicited the support of Horizon Travail an organization in Quebec which helps prepare and train visually impaired people to enter the job market. This is a necessary service since this is a population that experiences an unemployment rate of roughly 70%. A percentage of Onoir’s profits are given to support local associations that serve blind and visually impaired people of all ages.

The only way we can change the world is by raising awareness, and there's nothing quite like walking a mile in another person's shoes to give us that insight. If you're ever in Montreal, why not go to Onoir and walk a mile in Kevin's shoes? Or, just blindfold yourself the next time you eat a steak...let me know how that works out.



I guess we would have to walk a mile in each other's shoes at least
What size you wear? I wear 10's
Let's see if you can fit your feet—
In my shoes, just to see
What it's like to be me
I'll be you, let's trade shoes
Just to see what it'd be like to
Feel your pain, you feel mine
Go inside each other's minds
Just to see what we find
Look at shit through each other's eyes
But don't let em say you ain't beautiful...
Beautiful - Eminem



Part 10 - I THINK I CAN, I KNOW I CAN

Throughout our conversation, Kevin kept using the phrase "I ticked that box." He would list an accomplishment and say: "I ticked that box."

I later asked him about that.

Jasmin: "Where were the boxes coming from and why did you need to tick them?"

Kevin: "I want to show that I can do anything. I have a bucket list of life things I want to do. I want to be able to do whatever I want to do. I want to show to myself, that I can do just about anything I want to. I'm not going to be limited nor am I going to limit myself. If it's something I'm interested in that I think will be a challenge, you're not going to keep me from it. Certain things are impractical, like driving, but I've done that too." He laughs as he adds "Never to a good outcome.""

Kevin has certainly not allowed anything to hold him back. Here is a list of his rather impressive sports accomplishments (thus far - as he put it).

In grade school, at a B3 - 10% vision or less - he played travel soccer and basketball. He says he was "fortunate to be a member of highly competitive teams that won more than 40 championships."

In high school, at a B2 - 5% vision or less - he played varsity soccer, did track & field (long jump, pole vault, and running), and played recreational basketball. Unfortunately, he was cut from the basketball team because the coach had an issue with his vision. Kevin says that's the first time in sports that he really noticed discrimination from a coach.

"There were certain situations, I'll give you the basketball example. You know the one-on-one tournaments and things like that getting into all these different elimination things they did for the tryouts for basketball. And I was successful. And you know I was one of the top two or three players that were playing for high school. And when he didn't know I had a vision problem, he was super excited. Now that he's the driver's ed teacher, he's like "There's no way you can be on my team." He could not see past the fact that, if I couldn't drive, there's no reason you should be playing basketball."

At the end of high school, Kevin received recruitment interest from colleges for both athletics and academics. He chose an academic scholarship because it was a full ride and he recognized that his vision would limit long term and financial success in sports.

In college, at a B2 - 5% vision or less - he played intramural soccer, basketball and flag football, and he also played one semester of college football as a place kicker.

Playing football had been on his bucket list, but as he encountered discrimination because of his vision from the coaches, he decided to walk away from the game.

"The social climate wasn't ready for the blind kicker."

While he played though, he did something to differentiate himself from other kickers; he wore a red Converse “Chuck Taylor” on his kicking foot and a traditional cleat on the other. He says the “Chuck” was like a second skin and allowed him to get a really comfortable feel for the ball. Consequently he was known by the rest of the team as the kicker with the red shoe and not as the blind guy.


IMAGE CREDIT: Converse

After college, at a B2 - 5% vision or less - he became a member of the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA).

He did track and field and held the USA record in the pentathlon for nearly 20 years, which features five events (Long Jump, Javelin Throw, 100-metre dash, discuss throw, and 1500-metre run).

He ran with the Olympic Torch for the 2002 Olympic Games.

Prior to an injury, he met the International Paralympic qualifying standards for both the javelin and pentathlon.


He also did Velodrome, which is 200-metre track cycling. (Kevin said he was never interested in long distance cycling because as he put it "I have other things to do with my life.")

In his present-day life, at a B1 vision level - fully blind - he plays hockey, and in August 2018 was named as a member of Team USA, the first national blind hockey team in the United States.

His current sports ambition is that he's hoping to assist with developing blind soccer in the US.

That's a very impressive list. I can't imagine doing those things as a sighted person, let alone as someone who's blind. (I mean JAVELIN THROW? Really?? How do you not turn one of the spectators into a human shish-kabob when you can't really see them?)

During our conversation, I had asked Kevin "Who would you be if you weren't blind?"

"That's not something I think about. Nor do I think "Oh I want to be this person or that person." I want to be me. I want to be the best me I can be. So if I hadn't lost my vision, the reality is that I probably would have been a professional athlete. To be able to compete in mainstream sports at a very high level both in high school and college and have opportunities to play...effectively being a B2 level of vision... I can only imagine what I could have done if I had I been able to see..."



I was alive and I waited, waited
I was alive and I waited for this
Right here, right now
There is no other place I'd wanna be

Right Here Right Now - Jesus Jones



Part 11 - BLIND HOCKEY...WHAAAT...?

The first time Kevin heard about blind hockey, he had the same brain short-circuit that I did (that everybody seems to) when they first hear about blind hockey.

"What? What the hell is this? This doesn't sound any part of normal. Let me check this out."

(One of the things I really appreciated about Kevin was this - his attitude of "That sounds really crazy - let's go do it!")


Kevin describes how he got into hockey.

"It wasn't like I wanted to do hockey. It came up at the right time and the right place, and the the try-out event was four miles from my house and it could have been anywhere in the country, but it happened to be four miles away. So it became an opportunity, and then the community, my buddies, all the kids I coach their parents, and my friends they would help me get to practice... My friends got together, unbeknownst to me and said hey, I know Kevin wants to do this blind hockey at 6:00 AM, let's get him there. They collectively got together, made a deal, called me up and said hey "We know this is something that is meaningful to you and it's giving you some enjoyment, we want to help you get there." And so they took turns every Sunday, four or five of them would rotate through driving me to the ice rink. And it's not that they played hockey, they would just come and watch. And I was amazed at that outpouring of support... And so I can't sit back and go "I'm not going to go.""

I told Kevin that no one seemed to know about blind hockey. Everyone I talked to about it said "I want to see that" but no one knew it was a thing.

"Well we're trying to grow the sport - it's tough to find people who are blind and also play hockey - so you're looking for someone who's also blind and a little bit crazy... It is probably the most awkward blind sport to be a part of... A lot of them [blind hockey players] - what I've found - have lost their vision later in life. At this level, there's nobody that I've played with who's been blind since the beginning except one..."

I asked him why that was.

"You need to have you know, an understanding of the environment for the game of hockey. So track a puck, find it with your stick, pass something you can't see to a teammate. So that requires a level of dexterity and knowledge of your environment. Most of the players on the US National [Blind] Team all played hockey growing up their whole lives. And then lost it and then didn't think they'd ever get a chance to play again. But now that blind hockey is available to them they are ecstatic because...most of them feel like hockey was taken away from them...now they get the game they love back."

"That's an interesting perspective because for me, that wasn't my route into hockey. This was just for me, a new opportunity, a new chapter, but not a defining moment, where for others, they felt like they lost it so they're so passionate about getting it back that they have a different level of passion for the game... That might sound awkward as its relates to hockey for me because I don't have that history with the game. I have a history with competition, I have a history with sports... My passion is more for life."






Gonna Fly Now - Bill Conti



Part 12 - THE COACH

Kevin is passionate about coaching. At one point in our conversation, he said, almost as if confessing: I prefer coaching to playing.

He has coaching licenses for both soccer and track/field, and his list of coaching accomplishments is nearly as long as his list of sports accomplishments, and he's been equally successful.

"So as a head coach of whatever the sport whether it's soccer, football or basketball or track and field... Basically 90%+ of the teams I coach end up getting in first place... And most teams that I'm coaching have anywhere from 8 to 12 to 20 teams they're competing against."

Several of the kids he's coached in track and field became State Champions and moved on to medal in the Junior Olympics. He's also a proud papa coach since both of his sons were highly decorated javelin throwers and medaled in the Junior Olympics - 4th and 12th in the US.

Kevin teaches kids in ways others can't teach them; his lack of vision gives him an unexpected edge when it comes to coaching. From a technical perspective, he says he can hear if someone uses their toe to kick a ball versus their laces, or if their ankle isn't locked when striking the ball. He makes performance adjustments just by hearing the movement and pattern of a player's steps, or how the ball sounds releasing from their fingers or coming off their foot.

From a personal perspective, being blind also gives him more credibility as a coach.

"I probably am more effective at getting kids to believe in themselves because if I can do something as a blind individual in a sport better than their parents or their friends..then maybe they can too. So getting people to believe beyond - and kids are much easier to kind of manage that process because they're not tainted by life so much. I'm able to get them to do more than they ever thought they could achieve. And particularly in a team environment so they don't feel completely self-reliant - now they're being engaged it makes them feel more strongly connected. So that's part of the bridge I'm building with those kids. And then it's communication, and teamwork and leadership and that's what helps them grow. So the success of the kids is not just based on my knowledge and ability to communicate the sports to the kids, but getting them to believe in themselves."


Kevin said that character development was part of his process, and when I asked him how he does that, he said that it's by including the kids he coaches in the process of learning. He sees the game through his ears, so he requires his athletes to be heavily engaged in communication, and if they don't communicate, then they get to sit next to him on the bench. He also reinforces that failing is an option, but quitting is not and he gets them to believe in his ultimate philosophy 'I am not afraid to fail, I am afraid not to try.'

Jasmin: "Why does it means so much to you inspire those kids and have them live better lives. What is that for you?"


Kevin: "When you teach somebody and the lightbulb goes on, it feels amazing. I like sharing knowledge. And so if you can capture someone's passion, and they get excited, that excites me....So I love the feeling I get when I help somebody improve or exceed their own expectations... That smile is paycheque... When they get that feeling of accomplishment or achievement...that smile I see on their face, although I don't physically see it, I see that pure joy. And it just warms my heart."

Jasmin: "How do you see it?"

Kevin: "Oh you can see it. You can see it... Their tone in their voice. Every part about them. You can tell when someone is smiling. I mean, so you feel it."

Now although Kevin is an all-around nice guy, he is a pretty tough coach.

Kevin: "I'm not there to be their best friend. I'm not there to pat 'em on the back and rah rah them all the time. I'm there to help them learn and grow. So as they age in the process from the time when I was coaching younger kids where it was just fun fun fun to now kids, who want more than just fun, they want to grow in the game and they want to put in the harder sweat and tears and energy, I work them hard. I don't do it just so that this is going to be an easy ride. When I'm coaching track and field I'm like 'You will throw up today. I can't wait to see you vomit.' So I'm not the nicest guy...I'm there to help them get better. We'll define what that is and I'll let them know."

Jasmin: "I didn't expect you to say that."



You can go the distance
You can run the mile
You can walk straight through hell with a smile
You could be the hero
You could get the gold
Breaking all the records they thought, never could be broke
Do it for your people
Do it for your pride
How you ever gonna know if you never even try?
Do it for your country
Do it for you name
'Cause there's gonna be a day
When your, standing in the hall of fame.
Hall of Fame - The Script ft. will.i.am



Part 13 - STRENGTH

Kevin is a pretty easy-going guy. In order to be different in this world - whether you chose different or different chose you - you have to learn to let things slide. I think that's the only option unless you want to become a shut-in.

"There have been times in my life where I would get treated differently and frequently inappropriately because of my vision. And it would just be beyond ridiculous."

"You know sometimes it's uncomfortable for people and sometimes you know it's their own perceptions or if somebody's different or they don't want to catch it or you know there's all those weird fears that are out there... None of that bothers me anymore, they're not worth my time, that's a missed opportunity for them as opposed to a missed opportunity for me... We've all got some challenges, mine is vision and yours is stupidity, so your loss, not mine."

"There are times where, on travel, [someone will say to me] "Hey Kevin, you've got on the same brand of shoe, but you've got two different colours on." Well, today's my circus day, it's all good. So you just learn to roll with it and accept that you're going to make those little foibles... Oh well, made a mistake... You learn to not worry about it so much."


How not to sweat the small stuff, as outlined by a blind man.

At the end of the evening, Kevin needed my help to pay the bill. The waitress had brought over a portable credit card machine, and he needed guidance on navigating the keypad because the buttons were almost entirely flat. As Kevin said "although things are intended to be accessible, frequently they aren't."

I wasn't yet schooled on the best way to describe the world so that a blind man could interpret it in his language, and at one point told him to push the green button.

I know, I know, I wanted to facepalm myself in that moment. I told a blind man to push the green button; I used a descriptor that in his world meant nothing.

Kevin had tried to get me to speak his language right away: the top row of the keypad had three buttons, and both the button on the left and the one on right had raised lines on them. He was asking me questions which I realized after the fact were intended to get me to help him figure out what the position of the number buttons were in relation to the two buttons he could actually feel.

If I had clued in, I could have described the layout of the keypad in relation to those two lines in such a way that he wouldn't have needed my help with the transaction. He was trying to help me help him but I didn't understand in that moment that that's what he was trying to do.

I'll take some of the blame in that it was past my bedtime and I'd had a healthy-sized glass of red wine, and I was also looking at the keypad upside down.

But I'll also put some of the blame on Kevin because he navigates the world so smoothly that it's very easy to forget while in his company that he can't actually see that world. And I know that's exactly what Kevin's going for - making people forget that he's blind so that he can be treated like everybody else.

In the end, I kept moving Kevin's fingers onto the appropriate spots on the keypad to make sure he didn't give away his life savings.

He wasn't flustered or embarrassed in the least by his blatant show of vulnerability. He knows that in certain situations, he has no choice but to ask for help, and he takes it in stride.

In that moment, more than any other that evening, he won my respect and admiration.

We live in a world where everyone is so afraid of asking for help and of showing their vulnerabilities, that to see somebody sit with the awareness that their achilles heel is on show for the world to see - without flinching - well that takes super-human strength.

IMAGE CREDIT: Amino Apps

"I made sure that I was my own pillar to a certain extent. But always willing to accept help where possible. And not be afraid to ask for help. You know if something is simplistic for another individual where it takes them two seconds to read you know, a cooking instruction, where it might take me 30 minutes...then give somebody that opportunity because it certainly feels good to help somebody... So I don't want to take that opportunity away... It doesn't embarrass me, it doesn't frustrate me and I feel hey this is great. But there's other things that I can contribute that others might find challenging. Some of those things are coaching and teaching and giving back in different ways. So I get utility both out of giving and receiving."

Kevin's blindness is not what classifies him - because he doesn't allow it to. He doesn't allow his vulnerability to define him, or to limit him. As a result, he lives life more fully than anyone I know.

Research professor Brene Brown said "Vulnerability is not weakness... You know, vulnerability is our most accurate way to measure courage, and we literally do that as researchers - we can measure how brave you are by how vulnerable you're willing to be."

IMAGE CREDIT: Forbes

He would never describe himself as such because he's far too humble for that, which is why I'm here to say it for him: Kevin is brave.



I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

Brave - Sara Bareilles



Part 14 - BEING SEEN

After dinner, I walked Kevin and Weaver back to the hotel. Weaver managed to chomp down on a few more snowballs that Kevin tossed into the cold night sky.

Kevin had been a gentleman all evening: he'd held doors open for me (how does a blind man open a door when he can't see the doorknob? I don't know, you should ask Kevin), and when we parted ways, he said "Now I can't drive you home, but I'd like to make sure you get back safe, so could you send me a message when you arrive?"

How to be a gentleman, as outlined by a blind man.

We said good-bye in the hotel lobby. I felt sad to be leaving.

Kevin has an infectious spark of aliveness about him; I look for that spark in the world around me and don't find it as often as I'd like. People are busy. So busy. Too busy to pause, look up, take notice, smile, feel joy, feel gratitude. There are things to do, places to go and people to see, so there's just no time to pause and feel life as it's happening.

Kevin's very real need, and desire, to take in what's around him creates a stillness that facilitates being present in the here and now; it creates the pause. That coupled with his ability to find the humour in everything makes being around him a very unique experience.

I had met a fellow human who was passionate about making himself better, making his world better, and making the world better for other people. I'm passionate about the same things and so to talk to someone who has a similar vision made me feel seen.

Does that sounds crazy, to say I felt seen by a blind man?

Maybe. But I did.

And isn't that the point of all human connection? To be seen for who we are?

The thing is, in order to be seen, we have to be willing to see. If I want to be seen for me, if I want the space to be myself, then I have to see you for you, and I have to give you the space to be yourself.

When we encounter someone who's different than we are, one of the best questions we can ask ourselves is "How can I give this person the space to be themselves?"

When we see, we are seen.

That night, I had met someone who inspired me profoundly to be my best self by the way he carried himself in the world, and it left me with many questions. Why had we met? Why was I writing Kevin's story, why had he inspired me to do this?

When life gives us a gift, the best thing to do is say thank you and leave the moment intact by not asking questions about it.

One thing I've learned for sure though is that nothing is random, and everything contributes to the whole...somehow.

Jasmin: "I don't know why I feel such a push to do this, but I've learned so far in my life that when I get this strong gut feeling about something, that I shouldn't ignore it."



All that I am
All that I see
All that I've been and all that I'll ever be
Is a blessing
It's so amazing
And I'm grateful for it all.
For it all.
Grateful - Nimo Patel 



Part 15 - THE PURPOSE OF PAIN

Why is Kevin blind?

Why is life easier for some, and more difficult for others?

Why are some people born with so much, while others are born with so little?

Why is life unfair?

All of life can be wasted in pursuit of the answer to this particular question, and the sad thing is that a lot of people do waste their lives asking why.

The truth is: it doesn't matter why because we can't emotionally afford for it to matter if we want to fully experience our own aliveness.

We have to take our power back from the unfairness of life and decide if we want to be victims or heroes. And yes, it is a choice.

To be a victim of people or circumstances.

Or to be our own heroes and rise above it all.

Many of us can find plenty of justification to be victims; we've suffered and our pain was all too real. But that's where the choice comes in: Will I use my pain to hide from life, or will I use my pain to conquer life?



Nobody asked for life to deal us
With these bullshit hands we're dealt
We gotta take these cards ourselves
And flip them, don't expect no help
Now I could have either just
Sat on my ass and pissed and moaned
Or take this situation in which I'm placed in
And get up and get my own
Beautiful - Eminem



What merit does a hero have who has never needed to beat the odds? A badge of courage is not something that life gives away - it has to be earned. There will be difficult times; challenges that feel almost insurmountable. This I guarantee you because in this life, no one is spared.

But those moments? Those aren't meant to be the end of you; they're simply the dark parts of your life story. They're the parts where, if your life was a movie, the audience would be on the edge of their seats, rooting for you, hoping you'll make it through.

The best stories are about the underdog who beats the odds in spite of what all those around him believed. In spite of his own fear, and the doubts of others, he rises up to meet the challenges that are thrown his way and he conquers them all. Now that makes one hell of a good story.

Maybe this is something to remind ourselves of in the midst of life's worst storms: this is the stuff that my hero's journey is made of.

IMAGE CREDIT: The Paralegal Society

We can't answer the why's sometimes and that doesn't matter because the why's can't matter. The only thing that does matter is what we do with what life has given us.

Regardless of what's happened to us, there comes a time when we get to choose whether we're going to be the victim or the hero of our own lives.

And the funny thing is that becoming a hero is a side effect of the real goal; that of being fully engaged in the act of living. It's about actively wanting to participate in life regardless of the cards we were dealt.

Heroes are the people who never set out to be, but who are anyway. Sometimes they show up wearing red hockey helmets, slapping a puck they can't see.

A hero is someone who would never describe themselves as such. Someone who's experienced a life altering event - something that was beyond their control - and has decided to use that as a catalyst to living an inspired life.

By that definition, Kevin is a hero.

And now the question is: will you rise above whatever life is throwing at you and be a hero too?

If a blind man can do it, you can too.

"It is extremely awe-inspiring for someone to consider telling my story. It certainly wasn't my intention. But hopefully it will make a difference and make somebody else believe that they can do more than either they believe they can do or definitively show others that they can do a hell of a lot more than somebody else perceives they can do."



God gave you them shoes to fit you
So put 'em on and wear 'em, be yourself, man
Be proud of who you are, even if it sounds corny
Don't never let no one tell you you ain't beautiful.
Beautiful - Eminem

IMAGE CREDIT: Cosmo Funnel



OUTTAKE #1

Jasmin: We could talk for a long time and I still wouldn't know Kevin's life story.

Kevin: What's fun for me is I get to think back about interesting parts of my life that I haven't really thought about in a long time... And it certainly puts a smile on my face... Even what might be perceived as the negative experiences... I enjoy looking back at those moments because it's something that helped shape my character and once again, I'm proud of who I am.



OUTTAKE #2

Jasmin: I love that. "You're gonna vomit today."

Kevin: Absolutely.

Jasmin: Coach is a hard ass.

Kevin: You show up a minute late - every minute you're late it's another ten push-ups. Don't waste my time.

Jasmin: I love it. Thank God I wasn't late, that I was early.

Kevin: You showed up at 6:07 and I think I was down there at 6:12. Otherwise you'd be doing push-ups in the lobby.

Jasmin: You would have said "Drop and gimme 20!"

Kevin: You gotta have standards.



And I just can't keep living this way
So starting today
I'm breaking out of this cage
I'm standing up, I'mma face my demons
I'm manning up, I'mma hold my ground
I've had enough, now I'm so fed up
Time to put my life back together right now (now)
Not Afraid - Eminem



A big thank you to Kevin for sharing his story with me, so that I could share it with the world.

IMAGE CREDIT: Essdras M Suarez for the Washington Post




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