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Top 3 Reasons Life Is Better As A Blind Person

By Danelle Umstead, Three-Time Paralympic Alpine Skiing Medalist | Oct. 08, 2015, 1:39 p.m. (ET)

Me and Aziza at a photo shoot in 2013.

My name is Danelle – pronounced Danielle, but spelled without the “i” because I cannot see. Today, on World Sight Day, instead of sharing struggles that I may have as a visually impaired person, I want to share fun facts instead. Remember, it is OK to laugh. 

Here are my top three reasons life is better as a blind person.

3. I see things that are not really there

I have a degenerative disease that has taken most of my usable vision. I have no central vision and no peripheral vision. What little vision that is left in between the two is very limited. This minimal and unclear vision leads to me thinking I see things, when really I am looking at something totally different.

It was December at Park City Mountain Resort. We had just had a great powder day. The snow was all over the ground – a winter wonderland. My husband and skiing guide Rob and I were walking to grab a bite to eat at the resort and I say, “Wave to Santa.” Rob responds, “What!?”

I point to what I thought was a Santa Claus sitting in the snow – it was red and had snow on it, so it looked like a beard, white gloves and white hat. You’ll understand when you see one this winter.

Rob laughs and says, “Ugh…that’s a fire hydrant.”

Now anytime we pass a fire hydrant Rob says, “Wave to Santa.”

2. I don't see things that are really there

My face vs. the door in France

Sometimes this is a great thing. There can be a lot of ugliness in the world and often it is better to not see everything. When people are in a bad mood, not smiling or giving dirty looks, I’m clueless just smiling being excited, happy and outgoing. I also cannot see the trash and road kill. Thank goodness and please don’t tell me about them. I’m OK not knowing what that looks like. Sometimes seeing through my eyes is much better.

Of course not seeing is usually not all good. More often than not, good vision comes in handy. Two winters ago, we were in Tignes, France, for world cup races. Rob and I were in our room, getting ready to meet our teammate, Alana Nichols, to go out and explore the village. Rooms in European hotels can be a very cramped setup. I think this room was about four-feet wide.

I heard Alana in the hallway and jumped up quickly from bed and run to meet her. I did not see this coming…Bam!!

I smacked my head and face square on an open door and knocked myself backwards on to the bed. I may have gotten a slight concussion there, but these things happen on a daily basis. Tis life! The cool part is I look super tough with my battle wounds. Maybe I should tweet once a week about the things I run into.

Just two weeks ago I got into a major fight with a pine tree while gardening. The tree knocked me to the ground causing me to throw what I was planting into the air, landing on my back, and laughing out load saying “Did that really just happen?” The tree won that round. Game on tree, I’ll get you in round two. My house tends to be a dangerous place for me too, the boys and dogs like to leave things I can trip on… but that’s a story for another time.

1. My dog can go anywhere and everywhere with me

How many of you are dog lovers?

Don’t you wish your dog could come into restaurants, on planes and into stores with you? Having a constant furry companion is no doubt one of the perks of being blind. She can even try to protect me from wild animals.

My first guide dog, Bettylynn, had to retire a few summers ago. She was walking into things on her left side. At first, I thought maybe it was something that could be fixed. I brought her to Guide Dogs for the Blind and they brought in a dog ophthalmologist. After examining her, he said to us, "She is blind in her left eye, you will have to retire her." When this happened, it was tragic, my heart was broken. Now she stays home with our son when we travel to compete and train.

After four months without a guide dog, I decided it was time to get a new member of our family and a guide for me. I am not a big fan of my cane. I call my cane "JAWS". When I am using it, it feels like most people run from me. When I have a guide dog, the dog lovers in this world go out of their way talk to me and help me out. I love this because I prefer to be a social butterfly and I get to when I have my guide dog.

Aziza joined our family in October of 2013. A trainer came out from Guide Dogs for the Blind and worked with me and Aziza for a week. Aziz is an adorable yellow labrador retriever with a personality like mine. She prefers to be a social butterfly too.

When the trainer left, Aziza and I set out on our first solo trip together, a long walk in our Park City neighborhood. We are doing great, then Aziza starts sniffing the air and doing the thing she does when seeing other animals: a little, sweet doggie whine meaning there is another animal she wants to play with. I know she sees something she wants to play with, but we are working so we need to keep moving. I say to Aziza "leave it" and she hesitates but continues walking.

With my limited vision, I thought I could see something big and black in the yard. I thought it might be a huge animal statue. She seemed a little anxious so about a block away I decided to take her off harness let her do her business. I put her harness back on and turn around. Guess what was staring us in the face? A BIG moose! I don't know if you know this, but they can be aggressive. So Aziza and I ran so fast all the way home and never looked back. Could you imagine seeing a blind girl with her guide dog running from a moose?

Aziza has been guiding me for two years now and our adventures only get better. Now when people ask me what happened to Bettylynn I explain she had to retire and that she went blind… it is contagious!

You just cannot make this stuff up... and things like these happen almost daily. Never a dull moment when you can’t see! Happy World Sight Day.

You can follow our adventures on Twitter (@DanelleUmstead) and Facebook (Danelle Umstead, Vision4Gold). 

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Danelle Umstead

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US Paralympics
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Rob Umstead

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