I grew up in California, Ohio, and Malaysia, where I learned to dodge flying snakes and other fanged hazards, and got a black belt in Taekwondo at 15. While earning a degree in natural history and a minor in environmental education at Arizona‚’s Prescott College, I spent several months a year living out of a backpack. I’ve always felt the most at home in wild, quiet places, and loved sharing the magic of the natural world with the kids I guided on wilderness trips throughout my college years and beyond. I dreamed of starting my own outdoor school someday.
My need to go where roads are rare drew me to Alaska, where one thing after another fell into place in my life. Losing my eyes meant giving up much of what I loved. Many blind people ski, hike, and climb, and I do some of that, too. But mostly I enjoy the outdoors in new ways now, through its soundscapes, the flow of a river’s current between my fingers, and the warmth of the sun upon my face. I still fish every chance I get.
Upon rethinking my future, I decided to go for a master’s degree in social work, with the hope that the way I’ve dealt with my tragedy could help others navigate through tragedies of their own. As a newly blind graduate student, I felt at times like I was climbing El Capitan in flip-flops. I not only got through it, including Statistics, which couldn’t be more visual, I graduated with a 4.0 grade point average. I started work a week later as a clinician for Denali Family Services, a nonprofit counseling center in Anchorage for emotionally disturbed children and their families. A year later, I was promoted to director of therapeutic foster care for DFS, the largest therapeutic foster-care provider in the state.
I’ve received some kudos along the way. In 2008, the Governor’s Committee on Employment and Rehabilitation for People With Disabilities presented me with its Alaskan of the Year Award. Prescott College gave me a Distinguished Alumni Award that same year, and in 2010, a Desert Star Award, which recognizes alumni carrying forward the Prescott mission. Most recently, I received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Alaska.
When time allows, I share my story through public speaking engagements in and out of Alaska. When I’m not working, or playing with my kids, or out on some river chasing salmon, I’m playing my guitar, writing songs, practicing yoga, or going to live music shows.