Deanna Callender has learned to focus without sight. In 2007, the Army and Army National Guard Veteran was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease that would eventually take her eyesight. The news was anything but tragic for her.
“As it got worse, it became a blessing,” Callender says. “I truly feel that God chose me for this.”
Despite her near-complete vision loss — she maintains light perception in one eye — the 59-year-old from Minnesota is living her life to the fullest, she says, and wants to set an example for others.
“I was always an athlete and a dancer, and I want to do good things through these adaptive sports. I want to inspire other Veterans.”
Callender will join nearly 400 Veterans from across the country at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass Village, Colorado, April 1-6. It will be her sixth trip to the clinic. Veterans learn a number of sports and activities at the clinic, including alpine and nordic skiing, rock climbing and scuba diving.
“I hadn’t skied in probably 20 years,” she says of her first experience at the event. “I love it more now than I ever did.”
Callender was introduced to adaptive sports by therapists at Minneapolis VA, who told her about VA’s National Disabled Veterans Training, Exposure and Experience tournament – TEE for short — where visually-impaired Veterans learn to golf.
After attending the TEE tournament for several years she says other Veterans told her about the Winter Sports Clinic and other sports events in Minneapolis. Her favorite thing to do – fishing.
“I’m a real Minnesota girl. We’re the ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes,’” she laughs, when asked about her love of fishing. “It’s good for me. It keeps me in one place for more than a minute.”
Since her diagnosis, she estimates she’s learned more than 50 different sports and activities, including: kayaking, goalball, horseback riding, blind baseball, surfing, sailing, archery and whitewater rafting. She says she hopes other Veterans will follow her lead and learn about the possibilities available to disabled athletes.
“Never stop moving. Do not concentrate on anything you cannot do,” she says. “Focus on what you can and then do it.”
About the event: Co-hosted by DAV and VA, the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic promotes sports therapy and rehabilitation through adaptive Alpine and Nordic skiing, rock climbing, wheelchair self-defense, sled hockey, scuba diving and other adaptive sports and activities. The five-day event in Snowmass, Colorado is a world leader in adaptive winter sports instruction for ill and injured Veterans and their families. Be inspired at wintersportsclinic.org.