Teaching Others About Living in the Darkness During Blind Awareness Month
National Blindness Awareness Month (October) just concluded and Kym Dekeyrel knows what that means firsthand.
Dekeyrel was born with a degenerative eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa and was told when she was five years old that she would gradually lose her sight. Her earliest memories include eye doctors holding up brightly colored puppets, but she didn’t think anything was any different for her than life was for other kids.
Things started to change when she went to school.
- “Teachers started to notice I was struggling with things, and in junior high school, I 100% knew I was different. I knew I couldn’t see very well, and it was pointed out to me regularly because kids are mean.”
- “It was so hard because, at that point, I still had sight, and I had to wear glasses. I had to wear these special orange-tinted glasses outside, and my books were not just large print; they were enormous.”
- “They didn’t have the technology that they have now where a large print book is the same size as a normal book. I joke around that visually impaired kids don’t know how good they have it now!”
At that age, it was extremely hard, and Dekeyrel did her best to hide that she couldn’t see, even when she was doing her favorite thing – dancing.
- “I didn’t wear my glasses when I danced–I could totally hide it, and I felt I was amazing when I danced. That started my bad habit of not saying that I couldn’t see or that I was visually impaired.”
- “That was both this amazing source of feeling like I belonged, but also incredibly shameful. When I was in college, I would have rather been seen as stupid, or drunk, or anything else than saying I couldn’t see.”
Dekeyrel had close friends who helped her navigate through college, and she graduated with a degree in dance. She was diagnosed with Lupus with symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis at 24 years old, which ended any sort of career in ballet.
Dekeyrel completely lost her sight after surgery due to a massive Lupus flare-up when she was 32.
- “When I woke up from that surgery, I had nothing, no vision. I didn’t freak out because the vision I did have wasn’t great anyway, but I also felt like maybe it would get better once my body healed. It just never did.”
Her husband had been doing CrossFit for several years when he eventually dragged Dekeyrel into the affiliate.
- “I started CrossFit because I was a shell of a human being. My husband had been doing CrossFit for years, and I kind of resented him a little because he had something and I had nothing. I cried all the way there.”
Dekeyrel felt embraced immediately.
- “I was instantly taken under everyone’s wing–people were so nice and awesome. Some people didn’t get it at first, but I could even feel them wanting to get it. For instance, I would feel someone kind of standing there, so I would turn to them and ask if they could grab me weights, and they were happy to even be part of this process.”
Dekeyrel took part in a partner competition, and strangers kept approaching her, blown away that she was blind and competing.
- “It was unbelievably liberating. The whole weight of the world came off of me at that moment, and CrossFit became my sanctuary.”
That feeling is one that she wants to share. Dekeyrel wants people to know that blindness does not define anyone and those that who cannot see can do much more than they think possible.
Last May, Dekeyrel was contacted by CrossFit asking if they could come out and video her doing her Semifinal workout for the CrossFit Open, with the goal of making a documentary. The Producer wanted to create a signature workout and use it to raise money for the Foundation Fighting Blindness.
Dekeyrel was hesitant.
- “So many people in life say things, and then it doesn’t happen, right? After we navigated some red tape, it launched on October 1st because that is the start of Blindness Awareness Month. And by December 31st, it was on the list of most successful CrossFit events of the year.”
2023 is the second year of what was named the “Finding the Light” event, and for some reason, Dekeyrel felt like her old self again and doubted the success of the event.
- She elaborates: “I just felt like it wouldn’t take like how it did last year; I felt like I haven’t “won” anything this year. I’m not crushing these competitions. And then I had to remind myself, Kim, that’s not why you’re doing this. That’s not what your story is about. And then boom, it launches, and it’s already bigger than last year ten days into it.”
- “I thought it had lost its gusto. And I’m so happily wrong.”
Dekeyrel has not stopped challenging herself and her ability. After winning the Women’s Vision division in the CrossFit Open in 2021 and 2022, and being named the Fittest on Earth in the Vision division in 2021, she set her goals higher. She recently competed at the NorCal Classic in the able-bodied division.
- “I wanted to try to qualify for NorCal as an able-bodied athlete, just to see if I could. I had to do everything just like everybody else, and I qualified by the skin of my teeth.”
- “When we got there, the first workout was announced. They told us we were going to swim across a lake, hike up this hill, and then do an obstacle course. Then we were going to do a mile trail run and work on the rings. I thought, this is awesome.”
Dekeyrel did it all. Her husband was tethered to her, and they swam and ran together, all while her 11-year-old son filmed it.
She is thankful for the body awareness that being a dancer for many years gave her. But it takes more than that to succeed.
- “You just have to keep trying in tiny bits, a little at a time. I just want people to believe in themselves. And to know that is all that matters. You don’t have to be the best – you can just love something.”
- “We all have our challenges. And it doesn’t matter if your challenges are sight, depression, a bad knee, or obesity. We can all do something to belong and to be happy.”
Dekeyrel is looking forward to finally defending her title in person this year due to the change in the competitive season and WheelWOD hosting the Adaptive Division of the CrossFit Games.
Learn more about the “Finding the Light” fundraiser and workout In honor of national blindness awareness, and make sure to check out the CrossFit Documentary, “Blindness: An Invisible Disability.”