The Flight Attendant who gave me the World.

girlI have landed in Atlanta, Georgia! I just went around the world. My friend, Heather Cross, is a big part of the reason I was able to do this. She is a flight attendant for Delta. I am one of her pass riders.

Heather has taught me a new appreciation for Flight Attendants. It is hard work. They are patient and understand how to provide quality service. They deal with all sorts of people with varying moods. I am impressed with how they deal with passengers and particularly how they help passengers understand the need to be patient with unexpected schedule changes. Their job comes with varied hours and requires them to be very organized.

It is a thankless job. They are responsible for your safety and enjoyment of the flight. Have you ever had a really great experience with a flight attendant and wanted to compliment them? If it was a Delta flight attendant, you can go here and let them know.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Heather for her support of my journey. She has given me the world. I will never forget it!

Adventure and Beauty
in New Zealand.

New Zealand was the most popular place people suggested I go. I now know why. It is beautiful.  It is a country of mountains, clean water, wonderful people, and ADVENTURE. I landed in what is known as the “Adventure Capital of the World”, Queenstown, New Zealand. One of my goals is to see and do things that will be a different experience for me in the future. I also want to use social media creatively. There were so many choices of things to do, I left it up to my social network. I compiled a list of ten activities and put it to a vote on Facebook before I went to bed the first night. I expected skydiving and bungee jumping (which was invented in Queenstown) to be the winners. I woke up the next morning and immediately there were three top things I was going to do: Canyon Swing, Paragliding, and Zip Trekking.

MikeCanyon

The Shotover Canyon Swing received the most votes. I wasn’t horribly crazy about this, but I felt the weight of the social network pushing me forward. After a trek up the mountain and watching others jump, it was my turn. I was all geared up and ready to go. Just a simple jump and swing. However, I took one look down, and it shook me to the core. My guides (the ones who push you over when you’re freaking out) were encouraging me to just go. My hands wouldn’t stop sweating. I measured out my step and suddenly I was headed off a cliff. Once I was down and swinging, the view was fantastic.  The worst part of the whole thing for me was the creaking in the equipment as I was being hoisted up. I trusted the people running it, but I was reminded how often we put our trust in equipment.

We were offered a second jump. Feeling the pressure to do something crazier. I and another person jumped again. This time, I went off on a tricycle. It turned out to be a great picture to use in a caption contest. See the winning captions here. I also have video too!

KbBYbWAOaPY4WUNbAziMXUxB8OfahGEwCyrDvhWFKVQThe second adventure of the day was paragliding with SkyTrek. The idea of flying in the air sounded fun to me. The take off was very casual. We went to the top of a big hill. My instructions were to simply keep running until I no longer could, then sit back and relax. The take off was easy. The “sit back” happened, but the “relax” DID NOT. Paragliding was the single scariest thing I have ever done in my life! I felt very insecure. The wind has so much control and I did not know what was going to happen. I fully expected us to lose control and crash. About five minutes into flight, I wanted off and down. It was 15 minutes of pure terror for me. I trusted my guide… it was the wind I did not trust. You will notice, in the video my teeth are clenched and my hands are bolted to the straps!

CWMJdSJCDSgXotnIwnQUCqa6LlNPo3Jgs0ToN3_kVEsOn my second day it was off to Ziptrek Ecotours! I did a series of six zip lines that took me down a mountain. The guides were great. This adventure also had a conservation focus. The guides talked about the environment around us and how we can maintain it. It was simply fun to just jump into the air and zip to the next location. The fear factor was much lower than the previous day.

My next destination in New Zealand was Auckland.  Once again, I compiled a list of the top activities. I posted them on Facebook for voting. When I woke up, Rainforest Canyoning dominated the vote tally and off I went. Rock and water are two things I love. I grew up on a lake with a rocky shoreline. I always felt I had great feet/eye coordination. After a drive up to Piha Canyon, we suited up and received some training.  Going off the side of a cliff was never easy. Once again, I trusted my guides fully, but with my back horizontal to the ground, it was the equipment working I had to ultimately trust. I could do everything right, the guides could do everything right. You never know, things break.

fxNudPUBAFJe4ynzOJe88yo_Ir1ZrvSmzSf5dRiH5ms

My favorite part was repelling down a narrow canyon with a waterfall in my face. I slipped and slided but kept getting my balance back. It was fun.

My final New Zealand adventure was the least scary, but nonetheless thrilling. I went on a Whale and Dolphin Safari. I love boats and water. The tide was rough but this played out to my advantage. When the other passengers sought shelter to avoid getting wet, I stayed out on the bow. I felt like I had the boat to myself. I was bouncing around and getting wet. Isn’t that the point when you are on a boat? We saw a lot of dolphins. They are amazing and fast creatures. They kept up with the speed of the boat and jumped around. I had never seen a whale in person before. It took a while but we finally managed to find and observe a couple of whales. Very cool. The Explore Group captain was very knowledgeable about wildlife. It was a wonderful visceral and educational experience.

Thank you for the adventure, New Zealand!

 My time spent there however, was not all play. In Auckland, I also met with New Zealand’s Blind Foundation. Coming soon will be a blog about what I learned from them.

 

I don’t need my eyes…
I feel every position.

Mike&BI love anything to do with dance and movement. I have been a dancer and student of movement for as long as I can remember. When I googled “blind dancer”, Brilynn Rakes showed up.

Brilynn performed last year on “Dancing with the Stars”. She was born with Nystagmas, which makes her legally blind. When I was in New York City, she was gracious enough to sit down with me and have a chat. I even asked some of Bernard Pivot’s famous questions, a la James Lipton.

MW: Where are you from?

BR: … born and raised in Visalia, California, a small town in central California, but I’ve lived in

San Diego for the past 4 years. And I recently moved here for school. I go to Fordham University. I’m in the dance program at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

MW: Alvin Ailey?

BR: Yeah, it’s on 55th and 9th. It’s a really big dance institution and they formed a program with Fordham University, so I’m getting a degree but also being able to dance intensively everyday and train.

MW: So what is your condition?

BR: I was diagnosed with Nystagmus, which is the “dancing eyes,” which means my eyes shake back and forth uncontrollably. I’m extremely light sensitive so I wear tinted contact lenses to filter out. . .

MW: You have tinted contacts on now?

BR: Yes. They’re like a layer of sunglasses. We send them off to a lab. It’s quite a process, but we order them, the prescription that corrects my eyes to twenty-two hundred, which makes me legally blind. So the corrected vision is twenty-two hundred.

MW: What can you see right now. . . me, what do you see?

BR: I see you. A lot of it is distance. I can’t see details in distance, really, at all.

MW: You said five feet?

BR: Yeah 5-10 feet is clear, and then past that is. . .

MW: After 10 feet what happens? Everything is blurry?

BR: Not everything is blurry, it’s just little details aren’t clear. We’re in Starbucks right now, I see someone sitting, drinking coffee, but I couldn’t tell you if it was a guy or if it was a girl, or what size coffee that person was drinking.

MW: And that happens throughout the day?

BR: Mhm, and I also am colorblind, which is extremely rare. . . for females to be color blind. I am completely color blind.

MW: What do you see in a sunset? You see different shades?

BR: Different shades, I mean, it is pretty, but, apparently sunsets are really gorgeous because of the color and all of that, but I just see different shades. . .

MW: Do you need a cane or. . .

BR: I have one if I ever need it, for crossing streets.

MW: Your eye are always moving? Does that mean you’re looking many different places all the time?

BR:  It means the clarity isn’t there. It’s not like, I’m looking at one thing, and it’s perfectly clear and it’s solid. It just slightly moves, and so it just takes away that clarity. It’s really confusing… hard to explain…

MW: Do you feel your eye moving?

BR: I don’t feel it, but sometimes if I stare at one object, it’ll go back and forth and back and forth, like, it moves.

MW: When did you start dancing and why?

BR: I started dancing when I was really young, maybe, 7 years old. My 3 older sisters had done dance as an extracurricular, so I was not gonna do sports and be outside because I’m extremely light sensitive and I was just not very into sports at all, so my extracurricular was dance. And I really found to love it and every year that I did it, I continued, and I did more classes. Just worked harder, wanted to improve each year… I loved it from the beginning, yeah, it’s something I could do. . .

MW: What are your styles?

BR: I started out with doing all styles: ballet, tap, jazz, modern, lyrical, hip hop. . . but then, when I was 12, I moved into just ballet, and some modern in there. I did that for 4 years, and now in college I do ballet and modern, mainly. . . and pointe also.

MW: So here you do ballet and modern?

BR: Mostly… there’s also extra classes, like right now I’m taking West African dance, which is really fun.

MW: How does your [condition] help you?

 BR: I’ve transformed it into a positive thing. Number one, it sets me apart from everyone else. It gives me a background story, and it’s given me so much more body awareness. I don’t need my eyes, so I don’t check myself out in the mirror. I feel every position, like I feel the muscles working. I can pinpoint a muscle and think do this, I can work my inner thigh more… yeah, so I just send messages all over my body telling them to do certain things and to create the correct position. So I hardly use the mirrors.

MW: Ballet has a big thing with mirrors. I’m not a ballet guy at all, but with studying ballet, a lot of people use the mirror, right?

BR: Everyone depends on the mirror to make sure [they] look a certain way…But honestly, it’s more about what it feels like, and also listening to the music is a big thing, and the big musicality. . . I love musicality, and the nuances in the music, and catching them holding an extra note. . . uh, I love having live musicians, too. At Ailey we have the pleasure of live drums, live piano. . . it’s amazing, it’s great.

MW: How do you work with partners?

BR: It definitely comes through in the partnership. I love partnering because I can just feel that other person’s energy when we work together. And so, again, it’s like a more complex way of dancing together. You feel that person. . .

MW: So you’re dancing with a partner. . . how are you different than the average dancer that they dance with? If they didn’t know you had a condition, and they started dancing with you?  What would be different?

BR: Nothing really. I mean, my danceability is not affected, but I’ve trained for so long that I’ve learned so many different techniques on my own on how to make it just like everyone else, even maybe try to make it better than everyone else who doesn’t have my condition. I try to add the extra little artistry on top of that, so most people that see me dance, they don’t know I have a visual problem. Even with partnering, there’s not worry… they don’t take any extra caution. . .

MW: You said add extra artistry to it, so does your condition help you do that, or. . .

BR: I think it does, yeah. It just makes. . .

MW: Because you’re able to, you feel things better.

BR: Yeah. It’s all about internal. . . working internally, and that comes out of the body.

MW: Who are the dancers or teachers that you look up to?

BR: Alicia Alanso. . . she’s kind of an inspiration to me, because she’s also legally blind. She’s from Cuba, she used to be a big star with American ballet theater years ago. She’s amazing, she’s that hope that you can still be a professional. I look up to any dancer that has made it in the professional field because it’s such a hard career. So if you made it into a company, and you’re doing it as a career and you love what you’re doing. . . I want to be that.

MW: You want to be a professional dancer?

BR: Yeah, I do. I really do. I would love to get a contract with an amazing company and tour around those big, packed theaters across the world, like, that would just be. . .

MW: And ballet, is that your first choice?

BR: I love contemporary ballet. I love the ballet technique, but also movement on top of that. I’m really open to anything.

MW: Dancing with the Stars, were you sitting by the phone one day, what happened there? How did that start?

BR: One of my teachers is kind of connected. . . not my current teacher, but one of my past teachers. I just got a call, and I’m, I think it was that connection with agencies in Los Angeles, and things that um. . . someone sent my story in to the producers of Dancing with Stars, and I wasn’t even really aware of the picture or anything. And they just called me, and presented the idea of me dancing on the show, and I jumped on it.

MW: Yeah, who’d you dance with?

BR: I danced with Derek Hough. He’s won the past two seasons of the show. He’s becoming a big dance star right now. He won an Emmy for his choreography on the show. Yeah, he’s an amazing dancer and partner and person in general. I was honored to dance with him.

MW: What was it like dancing with him?

BR: It was amazing, he was such a good partner, and was so supportive, and was like, how are you doing this? And I was like, I’m just dancing. It was just amazing. He was an amazing dancer. So versatile, he can do so many different styles.

MW: I always was dancing growing up… I felt so good dancing, and I was always trying to get people to dance. Like at weddings, I’m always like, get out, just move… there are people that are apprehensive about dance. What’s your strategy for getting [them] to dance… what do you tell them.

BR: It’s just so much fun and it’s just, like, a release of almost stress, energy. It’s a form of exercise, too, which, releases endorphins. It just makes you happy, especially when it’s a good song. I enjoy it so much that I want other people to feel that same happiness as when I’m doing it… If you’re really feeling like you’re having fun, it comes through. This is told by us all the time. . . if you’re worried about what you look like, then you look worse. If you’re not worried about what you look like, you look better. You look like you’re enjoying yourself.

MW: What can you say particularly to people who have vision issues that want to dance, that are apprehensive about it.

BR: I would say don’t be afraid of anything, because fear is just your worst enemy. It will hold you back from so many things. It will hold you back from being really happy, and you could really love to dance, but you’re too afraid of the one person who is different. And so, throughout my life, I’ve learned that you wanna be that one person who’s different. You want to stand out, and share who you are. And if you have a visual impairment, it’s part of you, and you have to accept it and hold it and cherish it, because it’s. . . it was given to you for a reason. And so. . . not just dancing in general, um, if you’re visually impaired and you want to do anything, go for it, uh, despite how scared you are, or how worried you are. . . you know what I’m saying? Like, just go for it, ‘cause life is very short. And you will regret it when you don’t.

MW: What was the most amazing thing about “Dancing with the Stars”?

BR: The moments on stage and also all the feedback. . . my phone was just going off, lighting up with followers, with messages from people watching the show and who heard my story and just, the effect that my story had on so many people. I guess, that are just like contacting me and follow me on social media. . . that was exciting knowing that I made a difference in their life. . . it’s like the biggest thing. Of course the light and the makeup, the whole experience was amazing, but just the aftermath of it, just what happens in my life after that experience. Different dance magazines contacted me, doing big articles about me. Going to the blind center of Nevada and doing a whole gala being a guest. It’s just amazing, being able to share and actually affect the world in a way. Awesome.

MW: Have other people with vision issues contacted you?

BR: Messages from parents and kids who are saying you have given me hope that I can do things I want to do, I can go out there and fight for my dreams, despite all of these things that are holding me back.

MW: What surprised you the most about “Dancing with the Stars”.

BR: The celebrities on the show are just the most normal people. The behind the scenes was kind of crazy too, like, it’s hectic backstage, and, it’s crammed, and before the show it’s like this countdown, and it’s live television too. So these people are performing a piece, and, if they mess up, that’s what’s going on television. I can’t just press pause and say, okay, well, we gotta start over. So millions of people are watching you live. And so that was kind of shocking. I knew that it was live, it’s a different thing when you’re in it. It’s a lot… Luckily I didn’t fall. Goodness.

Bernard Pivot’s 10 Famous Questions

MW: What is your favorite word?

BR: Passion.

MW: What is your least favorite word?

BR: Weakness.

MW: What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?

BR: People who love what they do or are excited to wake up in the morning and follow their passion.

MW: What turns you off?

BR: People who complain about insignificant things in life.

MW: What is your favorite curse word?

BR: Uh, oh wow, um. . .

MW: Uh, you don’t have to answer that.

BR: Yeah, no, I don’t know. That’s a funny question though.

MW: What sound or noise do you love?

BR: An exhale.

MW: What sound or noise do you hate?

BR: Chitter chatter, when people are whispering to each other. I don’t like that, it’s annoying. It’s like, say what you have to say. Don’t just whisper, you know what I mean?

MW: What profession other than your own would you like to do. . . if you couldn’t study dance. . .

BR: Oh, public speaking. Inspirational public speaking… I want to do, like, after school or after my dance career I want to write a book and do that. It would just be amazing.

MW: That’s awesome.

BR: Dream job.

MW: What profession would you not like to do?

BR:  Waitressing or book work in an office, I wouldn’t really want to do anything other than what I’m doing.

MW: If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

BR: Brilynn, congratulations, you’ve lived an amazing, fulfilled life, and you’ve done everything that I’ve planned for you to do.

This concludes the first interview of my #Flight4Sight.

A BIG THANK YOU to Brilynn! I am now a fan!

The world will not wait
for me to see it.

Plane

In 1997, I was diagnosed with Usher Syndrome Type 2. I have a moderate to severe hearing loss combined with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). My hearing has been stable my entire life and with the help of hearing aids I am able to hear pretty well.

My vision is a different story. It is slowly starting to go. In 2011, my night vision became so bad that driving at night was no longer safe. In 2012, my loss of peripheral vision stopped me from being able to drive at all. This past year, I began to use a cane. Today, I bump into things all day and everyday. Crossing streets is a challenge. Darkness is darker for me, and all forms of light are extra bright.

My vision is going. The world will not wait for me.

On Saturday, February 1st, I am leaving Madison, Wisconsin to travel the world for 40 days and 40 nights. I am putting the choice of where I go into your hands. During my journey I will be blogging about vision issues. I will use social media to engage with others about the challenges, opportunities, and research.

My final destination will be Austin, Texas where I will attend South by Southwest. A conference involving Social Media where I hope to share my experience.

To decide where I am going, please visit my Facebook Page and comment where I should go. The journey begins Saturday!