Vision Awareness Day

Vision Awareness Day

Thank you to Hackensack Meridian Health for asking us to be part of the resource fair at another inspirational Vision Awareness Day. This program, made possible by the Mitchell-Vassar Bright Future Legacy and Janice Mitchell Vassar’s generous gift, offered a wealth of practical and motivational information for attendees.

Donald J. Parker, president, Behavioral Health Care Transformation Services/Integrative Medicine, for HMH, and president of the Carrier Clinic opened the event with some interesting thoughts on luck. He feels that luck was instrumental to getting him to where he is today both personally and professionally–with the stipulation that he didn’t just sit back and observe. He suggests that luck, skills, and relaxation all play a key role in shaping one’s future and how you choose to live your life.

During his talk he facilitated a progressive relaxation technique centered around a “calm scene” of the audience’s choosing. It only took a few minutes, but it allowed the audience to experience how they can combine relaxation and music, as well as exercise, eating well, and taking time off to achieve a balanced, healthy lifestyle. Adopting such important principles daily creates the ability to seize opportunities as they arise so you can overcome any challenge.

The keynote speaker, Danelle Umstead, also touched on the idea of taking advantage of opportunities, even if you initially don’t want to. She took the audience through the trials and tribulations of her life and explained how she chose to “use desperation as inspiration to act.”

Her struggles include: being diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (a genetic condition that causes progressive vision loss–in her case starting at 13 and losing vision in 2001), losing her mother to cancer when she was 19, crashing during competitions because she couldn’t hear her guide’s commands over the cheering crowds, debilitating bouts with anxiety, being diagnosed with Relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis and learning how to walk again, and breaking both her fibula and tibia bone. Some people would recoil and sink into darkness if faced with these losses—and Danelle did spend 2 years feeling lost and sorry for herself. But she chose a different path. Her advice: re-direct focus.

When she was down and feeling sorry for herself her father called and said: “I want to take you skiing.”  At first, she didn’t want to take him up on his offer but eventually conceded, and, look at how that one decision shaped the rest of her life! She moved from the safety and comfort of her couch and literally overcame a low that was draining her spirit. This shift to the mountaintop eventually propelled her to achieve a spot on the Paralympic ski racing team, with her husband and guide, Rob, as Vision4Gold. With determination she learned to ski down a mountain at 70 MPH with trust and without fear. Hours of sacrifice and hard work led her to be a four-time Paralympian and three-time Paralympic Medalist.

She credits a journalist who asked the “right” question after she suffered a fall during an important race. That question allowed her team switch focus so they could work better together to reach the goals they set for themselves. She even accepted an opportunity with Dancing with the Stars that took her out of her comfort zone shortly after she was diagnosed with MS. She was the first ever blind contestant. It seems that Danelle is unstoppable. Ultimately, she inspired the audience to follow her example and, with courage and tenacity, take all the things that sting and shift focus. To take a loss and move forward with love.

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