Tag Archives: fitness

Meet Kit Lau, the Blind 67-Year-Old Who’ll Put Your Fitness Regimen to Shame

Eclipse viewing at LightHouseLightHouse veteran and National Fitness Challenge participant Kit Lau wasn’t big on fitness, until she decided to sign up for the nine-month challenge. 

Kit Lau smiles with her guide dog Alisa in front of a colorful background.

“‘Fitness? I’m not too fit,’” the 67-year-old said to herself when she heard about the NFC in the LightHouse weekly newsletter. She wasn’t willing to change her lifestyle for “a little toy”, as she good-naturedly describes the Fitbit that is provided to each of the 25 participants.

But after a girlfriend prodded her about it, she figured she could just wear the Fitbit and go about her everyday life. But her competitive spirit got her tracking her steps and comparing her numbers to the other NFC challengers—and getting out and about regularly.

We kicked off the National Fitness Challenge in March this year, and participants like Kit have worked hard to step up their fitness and reach the recommended 10,000 steps and 30 active minutes per day. The NFC is put on by the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) and the Anthem Foundation in a national effort to get the low vision community out and about.

Since March, Kit has been one of our most involved and improved participants, riding in Cycle for Sight, signing up for a number of 10Ks throughout the Bay Area, faithfully attending our Summer Run Club at Lake Merritt, walking miles with her guide dog Alisa along the Bay Trail, and regularly riding more than 30 miles a week on a tandem bicycle with her fitness partner Nancy.

“People always ask me, ‘Are you training for something?’” she says, laughing incredulously. “No, I’m training for fun.”

And somehow, despite her initial objections, Kit has found fitness integrated into her life in a big way.

“I’m happier,” she says. “I’m enjoying it. Sometimes it makes me laugh because [the Fitbit] is so ridiculous, I work out for an hour and it says I only did 8 minutes. But exercising regularly is much easier than I thought.”

When Kit isn’t getting her steps in or reckoning with her temperamental Fitbit, she takes iPhone classes with our Access Tech specialists. She’s been in contact with the LightHouse community for approximately 40 years, since she first moved to the US from China in her early 20s. She has become a regular at the LightHouse since her retirement.

“You can never stop learning,” she says. “You think you know everything but there’s always something else you don’t know.”

And it’s true that Kit’s tenacity isn’t reserved to fitness. Growing up blind in China, she didn’t have access to education until Macau finally got a school for the blind when she was 12 years old. After learning Chinese braille she skipped ahead to 6th grade in just four years, and transitioned to an English school where she was integrated with her sighted peers.

“I was so freaked out, but I was also so happy,” she says. “I was scared because I didn’t know how to interact with sighted people because I was so shut in when I was a kid. I didn’t know how they’d treat me, but I was happy because I finally got to go to real school.”

But the teachers taught mainly by writing characters on the chalkboard—so Kit asked the girl sitting next to her to read what was on the board to her while she took notes with a slate and stylus.

“I learned to write really fast in braille because you have to catch up with the sighted people,” she says. “She’d whisper to me and I couldn’t ask her to repeat because the teacher keeps going and I don’t want to stop her. So I learned how to write fast, not because I’m talented, but out of necessity.”

After moving to the US, Kit got a degree in psychology at a community college and worked in social security, but found it wasn’t for her. She wanted something more. So took her entrant exam and started school at UC Berkeley, where she got a four year Computer Science degree. But even with a prestigious degree, Kit found it extremely difficult to find a job. After months of interviews she took matters into her own hands.

She approached the civilian division at the Alameda Military Base, and said “I’m going to volunteer to be a computer programmer for one to three months, if you don’t like it I’ll leave. If I do a good job, you hire me.”

They hired her after a month. The job kickstarted her career in computer programming and she moved on to Pacific Bell (now AT&T) and then the US forest service where she worked until taking early retirement in 2005.

And all along, Kit has been a vibrant and friendly fixture in the LightHouse community, as well as a generous donor.

Kit and her fitness partner Nancy ride along a winding rode in Napa during Cycle for Sight.“I like to meet new friends and especially happy friends,” she says, with an infectious laugh. “The LightHouse is very good for the community. They have good programs and kind people.”

Her only wish? That more of the National Fitness Challenge participants would come to the group runs and get in the competitive community spirit before the NFC ends in November:

“I think getting out and moving with a big crowd gives you a sense of excitement,” she says about why she keeps attending NFC events. “It’s different than doing it yourself. I would like to ask, all you young kids to come meet this energetic lady, because I can challenge you to walk faster than me. I want to shake your hand, give each other encouragement and we can work as a group so we can do more steps, and meet as a big family.”

Learn more about the National Fitness Challenge and our fitness offerings at the LightHouse, and contact Serena Olsen at solsen@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7316 to join Kit in getting involved with our upcoming fitness events.

Volunteer Spotlight: Abby Cochran

When Abby Cochran first found the LightHouse three years ago, she came asking for help – but she wasn’t blind.

Abby, who is fully sighted, had just moved to Berkeley for her Masters degree and was working at a startup in the city called TransitScreen. The company was using bluetooth beacons to send transit data to users phones – particularly useful for blind users at inaccessible signs. She needed user testers though, and someone told her LightHouse was the obvious choice.

“I met a lot of really friendly people who expressed interest in my work and welcomed me,” she says. “They said, ‘Wait, that’s actually a really interesting thing. Can we talk about doing this? It was really welcoming and nice.”

As Abby transitioned into her PhD in Urban Planning at UC Berkeley, LightHouse stuck in the back of her mind. Her social circumstances were changing, her time circumstances were changing, and she was looking for new people and activities to fill her time.

A couple months and a few LightHouse newsletters later, Abby discovered our Fitness Partner’s program.

“At the time it was in the middle of a beautiful week and I was like man, if I’m going out running anyway, I might as well have a buddy,” she says. “That would be the best.”

Abby signed up for a Volunteer Training and Volunteer Coordinator Justine Harris-Richburgh connected her to her new fitness partner who, like Abby, lived in Berkeley and was excited to spend time every weekend getting out and about. The two quickly fell into a rhythm with hikes all around the Bay Area. Abby says they still hike about once a week, usually for half a day.

“Within the first few weeks we were exercising together, he invited me to an event,” she says. “We were doing introductions and meeting people, and he said this is Abby. And they were like ‘Oh, how do you two know each other?’ And we hesitated for a second and looked in each other’s direction and said, ‘Well, we’re… friends.’”

Despite morphing into a supportive friendship, Abby says the fitness outings are both regular and casual. “We might go to see a particular section of the Bay trail,” she says, “or one of us — I won’t say which — might want to go shoe shopping. We’re flexible.”

Abby continues to volunteer at numerous LightHouse events, assisted in our Sexual Health workshop series, connected with other fitness partners, and will work as an Orienteering instructor for STEAM Camp at Enchanted Hills this summer.

So what keeps Abby coming back to LightHouse, time and time again?

“I love the people first,” she says. “I like hanging out with my friends and my friends are now here. I have a really wonderful confluence in the LightHouse. There is a mission that I also think that I’d like to forward, and that is to increase opportunities for those who are blind and low vision, but also everyone with different capabilities to reach the potential and quality of life that they desire. I want to help people do whatever they want. I’m in a privileged position to do so, and I think it would be remiss not to take advantage of that.”

“So that’s the do-gooder response. But I’m also very selfish and everyone is super nice to me and they invite me to fun things and sometimes we go get beers. They’re very supportive.”

Abby found a home at LightHouse, but she also found a valuable network and wealth of information for her research and work. She’ll be writing her dissertation on disability responsive planning, and critically examining accessibility in cities and to show how we define, perceive and measure access determines qualities of the built environment that hinder or enable people in particular ways.

“It evolved as a direct result of my work here,” she says. “This place runs deep. It’s been hugely influential and meeting the network of people here that also have a network in fields that i’m interested in, in city planning, transportation. You cannot remove people from place.”

Browse the various volunteer opportunities we offer and fill out our volunteer sign-up form or our group sign-up form. If you have any questions, contact Justine Harris-Richburgh, Volunteer Engagement Specialist at 1altruism@lighthouse-sf.org or by calling 415-694-7366. All new volunteers are given background checks and are often given a group volunteering opportunity to start. We hope, like Abby, you’ll consider giving your time to the LightHouse (and becoming part of our diverse and growing community in the process)!