Last Saturday, April 17, LightHouse held its annual Cycle for Sight fundraiser for Enchanted Hills Camp (EHC). After cancelling Cycle for Sight in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were thrilled to bring the event back, this year in a virtual format.
Participants first gathered Saturday morning on Zoom for an opening ceremony, before getting down to business and exercising for at least 90 minutes, by hiking, running, swimming, and yes cycling, before gathering for an afterparty in the afternoon.
Two weeks ago we brought to you the story of Chris Downey, renowned architect who is blind and the immediate past LightHouse Board President and current board member. Chris has taken part in Cycle for Sight for the past ten years. This year, with the event’s virtual format, Chris used his garage rowing machine, along with some high-tech gadgets, to row across the English Channel a distance of 33.8 kilometers.
So how did it go? HE DID IT!!
“It was a fun experience and I’m thrilled it paid off with this level of support to the LightHouse and Enchanted Hills Camp. the (virtual) water was splendid as was the weather. The row was intense – especially the extra 15K beyond my weekly Saturday row. All went according to plan and I was able to knock it out without injury or total exhaustion. That said, there was nothing left in the tank had there been any challenge to row back to the other side! I could sense a little protest from my body when resuming my regular workout routine this morning – no pain, just lethargy!”
Chris Downey, immediate past Chair of the LightHouse board and renowned blind architect, is a bike rider. He has ridden as part of Team Enchanted Hills in Cycle for Sight, a fundraiser to raise funds for Enchanted Hills Camp, almost every year in the past decade. As a blind rider, Chris and his tandem partners always choose to ride the hilly 50-mile route. If Chris is participating, he wants to be all in. Cycle for Sight is an event he looks forward to every year.
During the pandemic, Chris has had to curtail his cycling, as his tandem partners aren’t in his household, and on a bike they’d be closer than six feet apart. Thinking creatively, Chris thought of how he could take part in this year’s Virtual Cycle for Sight where participants can invent their own athletic way to exercise. In addition to bike riding, Chris is an avid rower and usually goes in a group in a racing shell with a total of two to eight rowers. Although he has done solo rowing with an accompanying vessel providing navigational input. Sadly, COVID-19 has kept Chris off the water as well.
But this year to take part in Virtual Cycle for Sight on April 17, Chris will be rowing the distance of the crossing of the English Channel: 33.8 kilometers. Chris won’t even have to leave his garage. He will be using his rowing machine. A dedicated athlete, Chris will be challenging himself to row this distance by rowing at 20 minutes at a time, with five-minute breaks, anticipating completing his goal in a few hours.
When training on his rowing machine, Chris fancies himself as an electronic “Pigpen”. Like the character in the comic strip Peanuts, Chris is surrounded by a cloud, only his is comprised of Bluetooth, WIFI and streaming data. Using his phone like a conductor’s wand and screen reader VoiceOver as the instrument, he will be listening through wireless earbuds to his rows-per-minute, distance covered, heartrate and the motivating music of his choice.
You can emulate Chris and create your own individual athletic event for this pandemic year’s Cycle for Sight. Support Enchanted Hills Camp on Saturday April 17 with a ride, run, hike, walk, dance, swim, skate or row for at least 90 minutes. Sign up at the Cycle for Sight website, and be part of Team LightHouse. We would be thrilled if you post photos of your virtual participation using hashtag #C4S2021 or email your photos to email@example.com. The event includes a morning livestream opening ceremony, and then we will regroup in the afternoon for a virtual party. The $45 registration fee includes a goody bag mailed to your home. If you opt for the $85 VIP registration, you’ll receive a premium goody bag.
Even if you can’t participate in Cycle for Sight, you can support Chris Downey’s row at lighthouse-sf.org/donate and choose Cycle for Sight from the dropdown menu.
On Sunday, January 13, 2019, 60 Minutes featured LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in a story called “A Different Kind of Vision.” The story profiles of LightHouse Board President Chris Downey, as he celebrates his 10 year anniversary since becoming blind. The story is about taking on and moving past life’s challenges, and is a testament to the power of blindness skills training and vocational rehabilitation like the ones we offer at LightHouse.
Hosted by CBS News’ longtime anchor Lesley Stahl and produced by Shari Finkelstein and Jaime Woods, the 13-minute piece follows Chris’ journey through brain cancer, blindness and regaining his confidence and status as a working architect. The LightHouse’s new headquarters, designed with Downey as a consultant, plays a major role in the piece as do the LightHouse’s training programs and an interview with our CEO, Bryan Bashin.
The best part? Chris is unequivocal about every individual’s ability to continue doing what they love, regardless of eyesight. Stahl closes out CBS’ legendary Sunday evening news magazine by asking Chris one of the toughest questions for a confident blind person to answer: “Don’t you still want to be able to see?”
Chris pauses, thinking deeply about the question, and then finally responds, humbly offering: “I don’t really think about having my sight restored. There’d be some logistical liberation to it. But will it make my life better? I don’t think so.”
Overlooking San Francisco’s UN Plaza and with sweeping views of City Hall and downtown, the new LightHouse for the Blind building is a singular architectural landmark – unprecedented in the world of blindness and social service organizations. Complete with short-term residential facilities, extensive training and community spaces, and state-of-the-art technological advancements, the New LightHouse is worth a visit. Below are several pieces that tell the story of our new building and its design.
Every element of the design—from circulation to lighting to mechanical equipment and the tactile and acoustic properties of surface materials—was shaped to the advantage of users whose visual challenges and compensating skills span an enormous range. The perceptions that LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin most wanted to upend were those of new clients and their supporters. “Bryan wanted a space that was uplifting, not a woe-is-me experience,” said Mark Cavagnero, whose San Francisco–based firm was selected by a design committee as the architect for the $13 million project. Even so, the environment couldn’t be so “soft and gentle,” says Cavagnero, that clients would be unprepared for the hard corners of the real world. The LightHouse also had an extremely unusual resource in Chris Downey, a successful Bay Area architect who became blind during an operation to remove a brain tumor in 2008. Downey, who immediately decided to continue in his chosen career, joined the LightHouse board in 2009 and is now its president.
The cement floor is intentionally bare so that the sound of footsteps falling and canes tapping informs you that the space is full of life. If your hand were to graze against the furniture in the lobby, the material would be soft to the touch, as would the smooth wooden handrail to guide you up and down the staircase.
It was only several years ago when Chris Downey woke up from surgery, blind. Any architect in his position would be forgiven for shrugging off the overwhelmingly visual profession and moving on to something that blind folks were “supposed” to do. But Chris did not give up so easily. Seven years later, Chris remains a practicing architect and consultant for numerous projects, including our newly announced headquarters in downtown San Francisco. He is also a LightHouse board member, and a great example of how newly blind individuals can stay focused, defy norms, and move on with their lives and goals with the same effectiveness and purpose as anyone else.