by Kevin Burton
After seeing one too many stories about blindness that was full of stereotypes and stupidity, I started a conversation.
I wrote about how my time as a newsman who happens to be legally blind made me sensitive to misconceptions about blindness that seep into society through the pages of newspapers and magazines (“Seeing The World As A Blind Newsman,” May 1).
I said I would be on the lookout for such nonsense and would bring it to your attention.
I am happy to report that most of what I have seen lately has not been objectionable, some of it even good.
Today, the story of a partially-sighted Canadian rock climber. It was written May 23 by Cory Smith in the Stratford (Ontario) Beacon-Herald.
I only had one potential problem with the story and it wasn’t with the reporter. Let’s see if you can spot my concern.
“Chaz Misuraca had finished a game of shinny with other visually impaired players when he was lamenting his life in the dressing room,” Smith wrote.
“His girlfriend at the time wanted to go skiing, but Misuraca – his eyesight deteriorating on account of a rare disease – said he couldn’t. One of the hockey players that day was an 80-year-old man who could no longer tell the difference between daylight and darkness.”
“The guy said he goes skiing every Saturday,” Misuraca says. “That was an ‘aha’ moment for me. I was super early in my sight loss, and I was like, ‘What is my problem?’”
“This week in Salt Lake City, Misuraca, a 35-year-old from Stratford, will become the first visually impaired athlete to represent Canada at an international climbing event when he competes at the Paraclimbing World Cup. He’ll conquer 18-meter walls with the help of Alannah Yip, a Canadian Olympic climber who will serve as Misuraca’s caller and direct him to holds from her spot on the ground.”
“I try to see how everything is happening for a reason,” Misuraca says. “When you’re climbing, you’re worrying about falling. I’m not worried about what I’m doing after or what I did before. I’m worried about moving forward, where the next hold is and what I can do to keep going up. You’re in the moment. It’s a form of active meditation.”
“Before he learned to climb, Misuraca hit rock bottom. In 2018, he started experiencing blurriness in his left eye. He went to different doctors for eight months. They told him his eyeball was fine but couldn’t pinpoint the cause of his concern.”
“A specialist finally diagnosed Misuraca with Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON), a disease that affects one in 50,000 and results in around 95 per cent of its sufferers losing their vision before turning 50.”
“The father of two turned to alcohol to ease the pain he’d kept bottled up. It ultimately cost him his relationship, and Misuraca admits he might have drunk himself to death if he hadn’t sought counselling and started attending alcohol recovery meetings.”
“He’ll mark four months of sobriety on May 25, the day he hopes to win a medal as one of five Canadian para-athletes competing at the International Federation of Sport Climbing event in Utah.”
“I had days I’d feel pity for myself, but it doesn’t change what happened,” he said. “I didn’t know how to cope with anything other than drinking, and it became an issue. It’s crazy to see how my life has changed, finally reaching out. It’s not unmanly to have feelings. I wish I would have learned this long ago.”
“Misuraca grew up in an athletic family, playing hockey, soccer, fishing, biking, riding ATVs and earning a brown belt with black stripes in karate. His now-ex girlfriend introduced him to rock climbing four years ago, and it might have saved his life.
“The Blind Explorer, as he’s known on Instagram, has since scaled mountains across Canada, including Squamish, Lake Louise and Banff, plus Zion and Joshua Tree national parks in the U.S.”
“You’re free of all your problems in life,” he said. “You’re so in tune with the present. I thoroughly enjoyed the physical aspect and the places it’s taken me. You can rock climb in a gym, but I prefer going outside in these incredible environments. It clears your head.”
“There is currently no cure for LHON, but a study out of Thailand was recently published in a multidisciplinary peer-reviewed journal that suggests advances are being made,” Smith wrote.
Misuraca’s sight is down to about 10 per cent in each eye, and he’s flown to Colorado a dozen times to participate in a clinical trial.
“The hope, thanks to his age and health, is the condition will stabilize for the foreseeable future. He can see peripherally, but his central vision is gone. His brain has learned to interpret what’s supposed to be there, while features on his iPhone allow him to communicate through text,” Smith wrote.
“He no longer needs a white cane and can jog 15 kilometers without stumbling over cracks in the sidewalk or tripping over curbs. He rides his bike, rollerblades, does yoga, lifts weights and swims lengths at the YMCA.”
“He was named top rookie at the 2019 Canadian national blind hockey tournament, helping his team win a gold medal that was presented to him by Hockey Hall of Famer Doug Gilmour.
“It’s a huge goal of mine to help inspire other people,” he says. “Even if you think you’ve lost everything, you’re still alive. Hopefully, it inspires people to get out there and set a goal and accomplish it.”
Misuraca’s priorities have changed.
“Instead of working 50 hours a week to pay off a mortgage, planning an all-inclusive trip and getting drunk every weekend – a future he envisioned prior to his diagnosis – he dreams of once again fixing diesel trucks, making the national blind hockey team and, if it becomes an event, representing Canada in rock climbing at the Paralympics in 2028,” Smith wrote.
Most of all, he wants to be a role model to sons Jace, 11, and Hunter, 8.
“I had to go blind before I could see,” he says. “Sitting in a room and being sad and depressed about what I lost isn’t going to bring me happiness. I have to be grateful about what I have still and get out there. I thought my life was over after I lost my sight, and the best years of life have come after it.”
My only question from the story was the part about Misuraca no longer needing a white cane. I have no specific knowledge of his situation beyond what is in the story, so I can’t say. But it’s the only thing that gave me pause.
And, Misuraca did win a silver medal in Salt Lake City, placing second in the B3 category for blind climbers.