Declan is Kinda Proud that he achieved what he set his sights on, and urges that you can too!

Do you have an ‘Eye Inspire’ story of #Emerging Proud through Eye Sight Loss like Declan you’d like to share?

Please GET IN TOUCH HERE

Or contact: yvette@syncinspire.org

Declan Ryan doesn’t give up easily. Sometimes being told you can’t do something makes us even more determined, and Declan is no stranger to determination. Once told he wouldn’t even be able to graduate from senior school due to his visual disability, Declan is now racing towards new goals he’d never dreamed possible. As he says; if you set your mind to something, then any obstacle can be overcome…

Declan (1)

I was born with LCA (Lebers Congenital Amaurosis). Despite being told I would be totally blind by the age of 10 and also being misdiagnosed, I had a normal childhood and education up until it came time for high school. Both the school’s principal and my mother thought it would be a good idea if I attended a public high school instead of a private school so I would get the proper vision services I was entitled to through New York State Commission for the Blind.  Little did we know that it would be the beginning of an extensive battle with New York lawmakers and Board of Education officials. I was told to choose 12 schools that I wanted to attend and based on that list I would be placed in one of them. When the decision day came, I was only given one out of the 12 options I chose, and it just so happened to be the last choice on the list.

For lack of a better term the school was not ideal for someone with a visual impairment or any other handicap for that matter. Upon advice of school officials, I went anyway just to give it a test run during a normal school day. It was made clear that within an hour of me being there it was not going to be a safe fit for a blind student. After talking with that high schools administration, they informed me that I should take my concerns along with their recommendations to the New York department of education and have them assign me to one of the other schools I had chosen that would be best accommodating for someone who was visually impaired. This would only lead to a lengthy drawn out battle that involved lawyers and confronting the school’s chancellor and former mayor of New York face to face.
Once again I went around to schools I felt best fit me and all of them pretty much turned a deaf ear to a blind child. One of which even went as far as to tell me directly they were not equipped to handle someone who is handicapped whilst a student in a wheelchair passed by in front of me.  It was at that point that home school became the only viable option for my freshman year of high school.
By some miracle one day my mother ran into the mom of a former classmate of mine and they started discussing my issue. It was only then my former classmates mom recommended the school that her child was in. Going based on her recommendation we figured it couldn’t hurt for me to interview at that school. The next morning, I walked in and was greeted by the high school principal who asked me one simple question, what do I want out of my high school career? To which I replied I only want a chance at a fair education. At that moment the principal said, OK fine you start first thing tomorrow and we will assist you with whatever services you need. At that time, it became clear the nightmare of dealing with New York politicians and the board of education would finally come to an end. Dealing with lawyers and politicians at an early age is never easy but it prepared me for life‘s adventures that lay ahead.

The remainder of my high school education was mostly uneventful up until it came time for the dreaded SAT in my senior year. Like some students I didn’t want to take the test and had to deal with teachers and guidance counsellors wanting to know why I did not want to go to college. Every time I was asked the question I would always respond with; college is not for me I want to pursue my dream of becoming a New York City firefighter. This is a dream of mine that I still hold to this day. Despite not wanting to take the SAT exam I listened to the advice of my mom and took it anyway just as a fallback. Upon graduating high school which was something those in the New York Department of Education thought I could never do, I ended up attending college after all since the exam to become a firefighter was not being given yet. Needless to say, I still found a way to pursue firefighting by getting my associates degree in fire science. Most would think that a blind person cannot become a firefighter and to a certain extent they are correct. However back in 2018 my dream became partial reality when the exam finally opened, and I passed! That’s correct I once again did something most thought could not be accomplished; I successfully passed the written exam to become a New York City firefighter. Whilst that would be the furthest I could pursue my dream for now, the fact still remains that I graduated college with the knowledge of firefighting and passed the exam to become one of New York’s bravest.

Some would say that when one door closes another one opens; I like to think this is true with my dream of becoming a firefighter and to what has now become my running career. I first got into running back in 2009 while training to run a 5K race put on by the Tunnel to Towers foundation. Ironically enough this race and its foundation were created in honour of a fallen New York City firefighter. Once again society would think that someone who is visually impaired, or blind, can’t participate in mainstream running events, but anything is possible if you put your mind to it and learn to adapt and overcome. When I first started training, I would run in New York’s iconic central park or at a local soccer field on days when weather was not favourable for recreational teams or Little League.  Yes, my vision was getting worse, but I was still able to see someone in front of me and detect an obstacle that might be in the way. When it came time to actually run the 5K race my sister reluctantly volunteered, she is not a runner! However, running alongside me the entire way we finished the 3.1 mile race with a time of just over 40 minutes. Since then it has become an annual tradition that we run this race every year and in doing so it led me to want to push my body further and run longer distances.
So, what better way to push yourself then get the idea that one day you can run the New York marathon which is 26.2 miles. Not being crazy like myself my sister did not want to partake in this adventure, so it was up to me to figure out a way to make this happen. For a couple of years, the idea of running New York’s marathon was just a bucket list item until October 2018. After graduating college and not working full-time sitting around got boring really quick and wanting to get out and be active running seemed like a good idea. After making posts on social media to see if anyone wanted to run with a blind guy, I was put in contact with the Achilles international organization. This organization partners able body athletes with those who have disabilities it wants to get back into mainstream sports. It just so happened that one of the volunteers to answer my posting was training another visually impaired runner to partake in the New York marathon. They offered to have me come run with them to see if it was something I was interested in doing. On our first training run I was lucky to make it 4 miles without having to stop and take a break. On that training run in October the trainer asked me what I wanted to do in terms of running races. I answered with one day I would like to run the New York marathon, to which he replied OK you will run it next year in 2019 with me. Even with only being able to make it 4 miles the fact somebody was willing to train me to run 26.2 miles shows us all the kindness that people have towards those with disabilities despite the negativity we can face at times.
I often get the question of, how do you run a race if you cannot see? The answer is simple the visually impaired athlete and a sighted guide hold onto a tether and simply go running. It is up to both the athlete and guide to be aware of what is going on at all times. The guide has to make sure they are giving the correct signals to the blind athlete as to avoid injury and it is up to the athlete to pay attention to every verbal and felt sense signal given through the tether to make sure there are no accidents. Having to trust someone with your safety whilst running is scary to some at times and accidents can happen, I’ve had enough of my fair share of bumps and bruises that  I’d be able to write my own book on them but the main thing is if you have fun doing something it’s not about how hard you fall but how you get back up and go again. The reality of participating in one of the worlds largest races did not sink in fully until I received the registration confirmation, I would actually be participating in one of the worlds largest running events.

In January 2019 it was time to put training as a priority running 4 miles quickly turned into a 6-mile training run and thanks to my trainer, members of his family and other volunteers with Achilles international 6 miles rapidly became running a 10 and 15 K. By the end of the summer in 2019 I had completed my longest race to date of 18 miles in Central Park.  Three weeks later it was time for the marathon, Super Bowl Sunday for those in the running community if you will.  Time to put a year’s worth of training and exercise to the test. My guide, another volunteer and I got to the start line and before the smoke from the Start cannon cleared, we were off to the finish line. Being born and raised in New York you don’t realize just how long the city can be until you are running through the streets of it. Whilst running through the streets my trainer reiterated the three promises he made back when we were training. You will not be the last person to cross the finish line, you will not be the first to cross the finish line, but you will cross it safely in one piece. Slightly over six hours later he was correct we had finished my first ever full length marathon.
My next adventure is going to be running the New York 60 K which is a nearly 40 mile race and just like training for the marathon and achieving A proper high school education and passing the fire fighter exam, I’m ready and willing to meet the challenges that come with training for it.

Despite what others may tell you anything is definitely possible if you put your mind to it, remember you will just have to adapt and overcome.  If I can do it then so can you!!

Follow Declan’s progress on social media here;

Instagram; NYNJrunner556

Facebook; Declan Ryan

Do you have an ‘Eye Inspire’ story of #Emerging Proud through Eye Sight Loss like Declan you’d like to share?

Please GET IN TOUCH HERE

Or contact: yvette@syncinspire.org

 

 

 

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