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Announcing the 2018 Holman Prizewinners

Photo trio, from left to right: Red Szell, Stacy Cervenka, and Conchita Hernández
Photo trio of the 2018 Holman Prizewinners, from left to right: Red Szell, Stacy Cervenka, and Conchita Hernández.

LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired’s three Holman Prize recipients will use their $25,000 awards to promote blind empowerment in Mexico, complete a dramatic oceanic triathlon, and develop the first online community for blind travel.

This fall, three exceptional blind individuals will set off around the world on adventures they never imagined possible as the 2018 winners of the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition.

The three winners, Stacy Cervenka, Conchita Hernández and Red Szell, were announced Tuesday, July 10, after a rigorous judging process. Each winning project embodies its own sense of adventure and ambition – whether it takes the winners on a mentally and physically daunting journey or allows them to build and foster something positive in their community.

Created to change perceptions and reclaim the concept of “blind ambition”, the annual $25,000 Holman Prize awards presented by LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco will springboard future generations of blind entrepreneurs, adventurers and ambassadors.

Now in its second year, the Holman Prize is named after the 19th century explorer James Holman (known around the world as “the blind traveler”) the Holman Prize aims to launch worthy projects that will change the public perception of blindness for years to come.

“We are thrilled to be able to continue the Holman Prize for a second year,” said LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin. “These three new prizewinners represent a wide range of ambitions and life experience: from tackling social obstacles to to huge tests of physical and mental fortitude, they reflect the diversity and capability of blind people everywhere.”

Last year’s prizewinners, are each in the final stages of their 2017 Holman Prize projects. One of the three, Ahmet Ustunel, will finish his project on July 22 when he navigates his kayak independently across the Bosphorus Strait in Turkey without any human guidance. Read more about the blind kayaker [Red Bull]the blind baker [Virginian-Pilot], and the blind beekeeper [BBC].


Meet the 2018 Winners

Stacy Cervenka


Stacy Cervenka’s project focuses on creating a modern-day tool that James Holman might have put to good use: it’s an accessible travel forum called the Blind Travelers Network geared specifically towards blind users, and shockingly, nothing like it exists. Think Yelp, Trip Advisor, or Cruise Critic – but designed for the empowerment of a population who wants one thing, more than anything else: information. As a “founder” of sorts, Stacy is creating a website from her own lived experience, drawing from her own adventures to know what works and what doesn’t for blind travelers.

Read Stacy’s story.

Conchita Hernández

Conchita Hernández’s focus comes from her own experience of immigrating to America from Mexico as a 4-year-old, a decision her parents made in hopes of affording better opportunities for their two blind children. She will use the Holman Prize to provide staffing, lodging and scholarships for her unprecedented “Changing Lives”(Cambiando Vidas) Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico in July 2019. Geared toward families, the conference will offer workshops on white cane travel, braille and daily living. In a place where blind people are openly considered to be a burden, Cambiando Vidas strikes at a deeper insight: you can have the best education in the world, but if your family doesn’t believe in you, you are at a great disadvantage.

Read Conchita’s story.

Red Szell

Red Szell’s project is an unprecedented physical feat. He plans to attempt an  “Extreme Triathlon” comprised of a 200-foot abseil followed by a swim through open ocean, a 10-mile ride through a notably hazardous bog-land, and a climb up a 213-foot ocean spire called Am Buachaille off the north coast of Scotland. But more than just a triathlon, Red has a plan to document the whole endeavor, working closely with action-sports adventure videographer Keith Partridge to turn the project into more than just a feat of strength, but a message to other blind people not to give up their passions because of a change in vision.

Read Red’s story.


Stacy, Conchita and Red were part of a competitive pool of applicants from every continent (except Antarctica). Applicants are required to upload 90-second YouTube videos to pitch their idea for a dream project with a $25,000 budget, before submitting formal proposals. View all 14 Holman finalists’ video pitches. Applications for the 2019 Holman Prize will open in January 2019.

The three Holman Prizewinners will fly to San Francisco in September 2018 for a week-long orientation before starting their project year on October 1. Once they land in San Francisco, the winners will not only meet and learn from each other, but they will engage with other blind teachers, technologists and leaders from LightHouse’s extended network. The winners will also create comprehensive plans to document and share their experiences along the way through video, audio, writing and other storytelling mediums.

Read more about last year’s winners.

The Holman Prize is determined by a prestigious group of judges, almost all of whom are blind. The prize is a flagship  program of the LightHouse for the Blind in San Francisco, who will salute each winner in an annual gala now set for November 29 in San Francisco.

Meet the blind judges who picked the winners.


About the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition

Holman Prize LogoIn 2017, San Francisco LightHouse for the Blind launched the Holman Prize to support the emerging adventurousness and can-do spirit of blind and low vision people worldwide. This endeavor celebrates people who want to shape their own future instead of having it laid out for them.

Created specifically for legally blind individuals with a penchant for exploration of all types, the Prize provides financial backing – up to $25,000 – for three individuals to explore the world and push their limits. Learn more at holmanprize.org.

About the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco

LightHouse LogoThe LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, is actively seeking sponsorships and support for the Holman Prize, including donations of equipment for the winner’s projects. To offer your support, contact holman@lighthouse-sf.org. Individuals may donate any amount using LightHouse’s secure form. For sponsorship inquiries, email us or call +1 (415) 694-7333.

For press inquiries, contact press@lighthouse-sf.org.