Tag Archives: Blind 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, she started going to the Fitness Classes New York and she was able to get into serious fitness pretty quickly. 

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, and use different weight lost programs from this Thomas DeLauer’s review.

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.

Are you up to the LightHouse 5K Challenge?

Recently, our Community Services Department asked our community of blind individuals some questions about how they live their lives and get exercise. One question was: Do you think you’d be able to run a 5k race?

Most respondents said no. Surprised?

Whether it’s a normal response – many folks just don’t have an interest in distance running – or a testament to misconceptions about blindness, we decided a 5k was a goal worth taking on, and a realistic one, to boot.

Running 5 kilometers sounds like a lot of work, and maybe the letter “k” turns people off of making the effort. Also, a common misconception about running a race is that you must run the entire time, which is not necessarily true. Many people who participate may walk for the majority of the race. Another reason blind people may shy away from a 5K is the fear of losing their way or not being able to keep up. Well, with a bit of training and help from LightHouse’s fitness partners resource many blind people may be unaware of–such problems can easily be solved.

The LightHouse’s own Serena Olsen set out this year on a mission to change fitness goals for blind people around the Bay Area. It’s called the National Fitness Challenge, put on by the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) and the Anthem Foundation to celebrate fitness goals for the wider blindness community.

August is the NFC’s halfway point, and we’ve already seen a ton of progress from our 25 participants, who were all given complimentary Fitbits to help them track their progress through the year – and it’s all part of a national effort to get the low vision community out and about. Here’s some data on all the blind people exercising their way through the summer:

“Through the first 5 months of the 2017 National Fitness Challenge, our 342 participants and 13 cities have gone over 320,000,000 steps and 141,000 miles, surpassing the number of steps from the entire 2016 Fitness Challenge.
Even during the warm weather of summer, cities have increased their activity levels on an individual and group level. Groups like Memphis and Fort Wayne showed their desire to participate in the different sports available to the blind and visually impaired with Paralympic Day events, while other groups like St Louis and Knoxville continued increasing their steps through monthly walking meetups.”

With the challenge running until November, there’s still a lot of ground to cover, so in the spirit of setting new goals and mixing things up, Serena has set the group’s sights on the 5K.

“Your muscles and vital organs benefit from the increased bloodflow,” Serena sounds like a doctor when she rattles off the reasons, adding. “There is a feeling of accomplishment and a sense of community.” To prepare her NFC team, Serena also holds weekly running (and walking and jogging) club every Saturday morning at Lake Merritt in Oakland. It’s a perfect opportunity to prepare.

Email solsen@lighthouse-sf.org to find your fitness partner and start running.

To really up the ante, Serena takes the challenge, too—she will personally register for and participate in every event where another NFC participant signs up.

“As the coordinator, it is important for me to be a good role model,” she says.

Pasted below is a list of local 5 & 10K run/walks happening all over the Bay Area throughout summer and well into fall.  The National Fitness challenge will reimburse you for your registration fees (conditions apply. Be sure to click through and read more details about specific events).

10K on the Bay

August 27, Hayward

Alameda Running Festival

September 16, Alameda

East Bay Front Runner’s Pride Run & Walk

October 14, Oakland

Night Nation Run, San Francisco

October 14, Berkeley

 

Forward a copy of your registration to Serena at solsen@lighthouse-sf.org and she will join you in your efforts, matching whatever you register for-5K, 10K, you drive it and I will see you at the starting line at the event!

And a 5K isn’t the only way to stay fit. While it is a great challenge to get people out there, socializing and exercising, there are simple ways to increase your steps every day that Serena mentioned. “Tooth brushing is one of those things where you’re brain can focus on something else. This is the perfect opportunity to pace,” she revealed. “Sometimes I will even march in place while I’m washing my hands.”

Contact Serena Olsen at solsen@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7316 for more info or to get involved.

The National Fitness Challenge is Off to a Racing Start

The San Francisco LightHouse for the Blind & Visually Impaired is a proud partner with the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) and the Anthem Foundation in rolling out the 2017 National Fitness Challenge (NFC) in the Bay Area.

The campaign provides 25 participants with Fitbits to track their steps and fitness activity from March through November 2017. The goal of the NFC is to raise the fitness and activity levels of participants to recommendations set by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) of 10,000 steps and 30 active minutes per day and to improve overall fitness levels in the blind and low vision community.

In addition to helping participants find creative ways to increase their daily steps by matching them with fitness partners and offering discounted gym memberships, the LightHouse supports participants throughout the course of the campaign with a wide variety of fitness programming and services. We also organize attendance to special events, including VIP access to the annual Cycle for Sight tandem bike ride in Napa on Saturday, April 22 and joining a blind centipede in San Francisco’s annual Bay to Breakers run on Sunday, May 21.

At the LightHouse, you can:

Blindness is not the barrier many think it is to achieving your fitness goals and enjoying greater well-being — and the LightHouse is here to help get into the rhythm.  It’s not too late to join the NFC if you already have a Fitbit — we welcome new participants to join throughout the campaign.

For more information on the National Fitness Challenge, LightHouse services mentioned here, Cycle for Sight or Bay to Breakers, contact Evening & Weekend Program Coordinator Serena Olsen at solsen@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7316.