Who said you have to see to believe that all things are possible!

Hi my name is Michael Davis; I was born in Port Jefferson, New York, but raised in Chesapeake, Virginia.  My story I would have to say is rather special for numerous reasons.  See before I had the chance to do anything right or wrong- when I was yet still in the development stages of my mother's womb- an irresponsible driver crashed into my mother's vehicle.  The accident left my mother with a punctured water sac and caused her to lose a substantial amount of am biotic fluid.  She was quickly rushed to the nearest hospital.  Luckily for me, the doctors were able to stabilize my mother's condition and she would go on to have a full term pregnancy and successful birth.  Everything seemed to be normal.

It wasn't until I was roughly 5 months old before my family began to notice I wasn't able to track anything or pick up on any colors.  So my mother took me to the hospital for testing and it was discovered I had cataracts in both eyes.  I had my first surgery at 5 months old, but unbeknownst to us, this would mark the first of many surgeries to follow.

At the age of 6 or 7 years old, I developed glaucoma and had to have additional surgeries to relieve the pressure building up in the back of my eyes.  Although my eyes would be relieved of pressure temporarily, glaucoma is a chronic condition and the purpose of the surgeries was to prevent any further vision loss.  I do not have any vision in my right eye and have been diagnosed as being legally blind in my left eye with only partial functional vision.  After completing elementary and middle school, I had endured 23 eye surgeries.

Not being able to see well there were many obstacles I had to overcome.   I encountered most of my setbacks at school.  Throughout each school year,  I couldn't participate in many activities, especially sports, simply because nobody wanted to deal with my disability or no one knew how to deal with my disability.  At times, the students and staff members were very insensitive towards me.  I can remember being in 6th grade and the 8th graders would try to dunk my head in a toilet bowl full of urine. They would take various belongings of mine such as articles of clothing and hide them from me.  Many of which I was never able to retrieve. There were many incidents where these "bullies'" had me literally running for my life.  Despite the many complaints and reports filed, very little action was taken by the school administration to put an end to the constant physical and mental torture.  However my mother's relentless efforts and serious threats of a lawsuit finally persuaded the school to remove me from physical education where many of these bullying acts were occurring.  My doctor was kind enough to let the school know that I was down to one eye and if the kids were to bully me and hurt the one eye with vision,  the school could be liable for any damage to my left eye. I’m so thankful for my doctor and my mother!

My mother was the most influential role model.  As a teacher and an educator herself, my mother and grandmother raised me together  and together they always pushed me to reach for the stars.  It is largely due to their efforts that I was able to remain hopeful and optimistic.  Their positive spirit motivated me to keep up with my reading and maintain high academic standards.   

During middle school and highschool I never had a locker because I couldn't see the combination lock so I tried to use a key lock.  But, older students would put gum in the key hole so that I was unable to retrieve my books for the next class.  This issue was compunded because i had large print text books that were 10x's the size of normal text books so from 6th through 12th grade I carried all of my text books with me to and from each class.  Despite all of these challenges, I found a way to excel in the classroom.  My mother and grandmother inspired me to be an honor student.

After escaping the myriad of emotionally painful antics coming from the ignorant at heart and successfully graduating high school, I decided to pursue a college degree. I actually ended up becoming the first legally blind person to graduate from the University of Richmond College of Business in 2007.  I felt really great about this accomplishment.  But what I didn't feel good about was the unemployment rate for the visually impaired. The national unemployment rate for the visually impaired and blind is 76% and I fell into that statistic. Imagine that! Imagine having to fight and work so hard and endure so much to secure an education just to learn that there only exist a few companies that wish to hire individuals with my condition. Talk about being dealt a frustrating blow but I kept pushing and I stayed positive!

In 2009, I was fortunate to catch a break. Thanks to my counselor Martha Macias who made me aware of a program sponsored by the National Industries for the Blind that allows people to take courses in the field of contract management support within the federal government.  I completed the classes, and in 2009 I had my first interview with the head of contracting for the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth.  A full year later in April 2010, I was ofered a position and my first real job with the federal government.  I can proudly say that I have moved into the 24% working percentile for the visually impaired. I felt so blessed and so lucky to have this job I wanted to give back.

My mother’s career as an educator motivated me to do more.  She has taught me the importance of giving back to the community.  This is so important because despite the fact that this job provided me with a decent standard of living, I knew that I needed to help other people with disabilities to reach their dreams. Because when you help others to reach their goals and aspirations it really does make the world a better place to live.  This is the legacy that my mother passed on to me, the spirit of community service.

In 2010, I was recognized at a conference by the National Industries for the Blind as the first legally blind full time contract specialist to secure a position with the federal government from their contract management support program.   .Additionally, I am soon to become the chairman of the State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind in Virginia where I can fight the high unemployment rate head on.  This council helps to support Virginians across the state who are blind or visually impaired obtain the education, and training they need to secure jobs in the public or private sector.  

Despite these wonderful achievements thus far, my most prized occupation of today is simply being able to give back to the community of individuals with disabilities.  As a way of displaying my gratitude for all the blessings in my life, I run races for causes that raise money for organizations and hospitals like the Children's Hospital for the King's Daughter where I had many of my operations.  Although I could not see my self running any distance, running is where I would become most helpful to others.

My first racing event came in April 2009. I joined the International Blind Lion's Club and they were holding a 5K called "Journey for Sight."  Some of the club members felt that I should try running in this race for the club.   Originally when they suggested this, I remember saying "There's no way I can run 3.1 miles!"  They assured me that they would set me up with a sighted guide and so, I conditioned myself for the race.  It was one of the most memorable and heartfelt experiences I had come across in such a long time.  As I finished the race, the announcers announced I was legally blind and to my surprise a crowd of spectators rushed over to congratulate me.  Surprisingly in my age group I took third place for the event, I can't describe how good it felt to be noticed and received with appreciation.  After being told by teachers and peers in school that sports were NOT for me.  

Since then, I have teamed up with Team Hoyt. For those who are not familiar, Team Hoyt is a beautiful love story between a father Dick and his son Rick who was born with cerebral palsy.  More about their amazing story here: http://sharedstory.org/story-60.

Dick participates in many running events because his son, Rick, feels when his dad pushes when running his disability disappears.  I have experienced that feeling myself when running; I forget that I’m visually impaired for those small moments when crossing the finish line. Team Hoyt is an organization that gives individuals like me a place to feel so special and alive when competing in lengthy marathons.  I have been running with Team Hoyt since 2009.  I also just found out from Todd Civin and Kathy Boyer that I'm actually the first person who is blind or disabled in the world to push another rider athlete (someone with a disability) in a running event. Jayden is an amazing 6 year old living with multiple disabilities more on his story here: http://sharedstory.org/story-85.  After pushing Jayden in multiple races, his mom said that I inspired Jayden to become a pusher.  Jayden told his mother "I want to be a Team Hoyt pusher too!” And so, this November Jayden will push a disabled rider in the Norfolk Freedom Kids Mile with Team Hoyt VB.  This hit home with me because I really believe in passing it on. I shouldn't be the only person in the world with a disability to do this...passing it on to Jayden is just so much better than anything I could ever do myself. To add on the great news, I just qualified to run my very first Boston Marathon!  

I will compete in the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 with Team Hoyt. I qualified for the Boston Marathon by running the Shamrock Marathon in 4hrs and 41mins. As my future continues to look brighter, I would just like to say to all the people in the world and to the readers who may find themselves in difficult times, that just because you may feel as if you have been dealt a bad hand doesn't mean you should throw it in. There are a lot of positive things you can still do, if you would only be willing to change the way you see life.  Many people say that perception is reality, and being legally blind, I can honestly say that this is true so if you change your perception you have changed your reality!  God bless!

Comments

kouros123's picture

That's an amazing story, Michael. It hit home on many points. My soulmate, Laura Chagnon, is legally blind, as well as being quadriplegic. Her story, My Spirit Leads The Way was recently printed in SharedStory. I'm a runner and can relate to your joy of running, I've run in races with Team Hoyt, they are simply amazing. I've run the Boston Marathon 10 times, keep it slow in the early miles so you will have some energy left for Heartbreak Hill. Good luck and go forth young man.
Ms. L A. Davis's picture

I am trying to change this. My dissertation will be focused on the blind or visually impaired in the work place. I do not want to give the specifics but I am glad that you have been so successful.