Tune in to the Power of Blind Ambition
Many of us start a new year with a list of resolutions and aspirations. Those goals can quickly disappear as we replace goals with excuses. A regular diet of motivation helps me redouble my efforts, so I regularly look for inspiring people, books, speeches, and songs.
That’s why I was pleased to have the opportunity to speak with Patricia Walsh. Talk about overcoming obstacles, pursuing dreams, and not letting an excuse derail goals.
At age five, she was blind from a brain tumor. Later, fighting depression and hopelessness, she made a decision to reclaim her quality of life. Now, she has written an inspiring book, Blind Ambition: How to Envision Your Limitless Potential and Achieve the Success You Want . She has a successful career as an entrepreneur, a software engineer, and a professional speaker. And I almost forgot to mention she is a champion athlete.
Don’t listen to the voice telling you to give up on your goals. Don’t settle for mediocrity. Don’t limit your potential.
Instead, tune in to the power of Blind Ambition.
I’ve interviewed another female Ironman, Chrissie Wellington. Reading her book was the closest I’ve come to understanding what it takes to compete. It’s a grueling challenge. And you’re blind and you did it. What motivated you to shatter expectations?
I stumbled into shattering: I think my friends and family assume that I set out with a determination to turn the world on its ear from the get go. Truly the spirit of the initial events was more of a, “What could possibly go wrong?” to which the response was. “Everything could go wrong,” to which I then responded, “Even if everything does go wrong, this won’t kill me.”
My initial motivation was to reclaim my quality of life. When this all began, I had a smoking habit, was the life of the party, and as a result was overweight and feeling lost in my own skin. As my dad started struggling with his own health, I realized that my habits and patterns not only emulated his, in many ways they were worse than his. I started running as an attempt to reclaim my health. The result after months of trial and error and continuous improvement was not only a betterment of my physical health, but it had become a lifeline for what had been a shattered sense of self.
In completing my first marathon, I proved to myself that I was not and never have been damaged goods. My sense of ability was through the roof. When proposed the opportunity to take on ever increasing challenges I jumped at the chances. After years of marathoning, a friend dared me to do an ironman. When I took on ironman it was out of a curiosity and a wonder for my own capabilities. I was in way over my head. I had never swum or biked. The amount of help and coaching I needed just to finish was daunting.
There is a thriving prejudice of reduced expectations of persons with disability. I feel it every day. People are surprised when I am able to order for myself at a restaurant. People approach my friends and congratulate them on their generosity for taking the blind kid out for an adventure. People do not see me as an accomplished adult. The challenge for me every day is to fight the impulse to become a defensive person. When faced with these reduced expectations, my want is to rattle off my resume. My want is even to make that person feel lower, but what good would come of that? I know better. If I were to ever really have that honest reaction, everyone would walk away feeling awful. I acknowledge my role has to be that of a gentle educator. After my initial success in ironman, I had the opportunity to race with a hero of mine. It was then that I saw the gleam of light that I could be a competitive athlete by any standard.
I believed that if I put in the time and effort to be among the top finishers for my age group, then I could offer up an example of appropriate expectations of the blind. That is to say blind and disabled people are not lesser than, they are equal to, and in some cases even greater than those without disability. Truly it isn’t about the comparison, it is about the assumption. The efforts of persons with disability should be taken on their own merit, absent of the expectation of diminished value.
Finishing my second ironman in 11:40 was groundbreaking for me. In 10 months I had reduced my own time by three hours. I had set an example of an athlete with disability who two years into the sport could be ranked among the top 10 finishers for her age group. I was then recruited to compete at a different distance for the US National team. My secret hope is to come back to ironman after Paralympics, as I left wanting more. I know I could be among the top finishers in following my own fuel-fire-blaze hierarchy with the emotionally intrinsic goal of continuing to chip away at the reduced expectations.