Dartanyon Named U.S. Sports Envoy and More

Posted on July 21, 2014.

Sorry it’s been a while since my last update, but I have literally been around the world and back.  Took a while.  First off there was a trip I took to Turkmenistan in the spring.  I was asked to go by the U.S. State Department as a Sports Envoy.  When I first received the news, I had no idea what I would be doing or what they required of me.  To be honest, I had never even heard of Turkmenistan.  I was just amazed that out of so many people I was chosen. It is still hard for me to fathom everything that has happened to me and that continues to happen to me.

I soon learned that Turkmenistan is in between Afghanistan and Iran, but it is not an Islamic government.  Turkmenistan was once a part of Russia and now has its own dictatorship.  The U.S Embassy in Turkmenistan wanted to help strengthen our ties with the Turkmen people through sport.  They decided to do that through the sport of blind judo because Turkmenistan does not have a Paralympic Judo team.  The State Department saw the ESPN story that aired in 2013 and thought that I would be a perfect fit.  They also chose Paralympic national team coach Heidi Moore, and Lisa’s husband, Navid.  Navid is a physician, and in Turkmenistan, there is an unfounded belief that if blind or visually impaired people participate in any physical activity, their vision will worsen.  Because of this, blind and visually impaired people were not allowed to participate in sports.  We wanted to prove to them that this was not correct.

When we got to Turkmenistan the schools and judo clubs were really skeptical about letting visually impaired people try judo, but after the first class that Heidi and I taught, and Navid’s presentation on visually impaired athletes in the U.S, they jumped at the idea of having letting blind kids workout with us.  Seeing children and adults alike, run, jump, and actually play around for the first time was breath taking.

Early on in our week there, we put on a clinic for Turkmenistan’s Olympic judo athletes.  They were very skeptical, wondering what they could possibly learn from a blind guy.  But after I threw them around a little, they respected me and began asking all kind of questions through the interpreter.  Heidi and I were able to teach them some new techniques and ways of training.  We invited them back the next day for the blind judo clinic, and to our surprise they not only came, but also helped to teach the blind children who were trying judo for the first time.  We were told that having their top athletes interact with disabled people was a first, that a huge barrier came down that day.  Gotta admit, I cried a little when I got back to my room that night.

Turkmenistan is a pretty crazy place, but I’d go back again any time.  The best part about the whole trip was the impact that we had on these people who were told their whole life that they could not do sports because it was too dangerous. I am learning just how much my once-perceived weaknesses can be used for good and meaningful purposes.  You can see more photos from Turkmenistan by following the Multimedia link of our website.

 

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This past spring, I also did a few speaking engagements for the Franklin Covey Foundation. They are well-known for the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and now they do educational conferences to help teachers teach the habits to their students.  They requested me and Lisa to speak and use our story to inspire teachers to invest in students like me who may have a lot of things working against them growing up, to show them that with a little love and support, it’s never too late.  They flew us out to Kentucky and Columbus, Ohio, and each trip was a great experience.

 

Keynoting in Columbus, OH

Keynoting in Columbus, OH

 

In April, me, Lisa and Leroy were asked to speak at a conference for Gibson, Crutcher and Dunn, which is a law firm. One of the lawyers saw our story and requested that we speak about poverty and teamwork.  He felt that the law firm had lost their sense of family and thought our story was perfect to share.  We didn’t know what to expect, but everyone was so welcoming to us and generous in supporting our future goal.  The conference was at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado, and while we were there, Leroy and I got to hang out, and Lisa and I got to dance at their after party.  We also had the amazing chance to see Lisa almost murder a waitress for trying to take her waffle in caramel sauce before she was done with it one morning.  The whole experience was fantastic.

 

Breakfast at the Broadmoor Hotel.  Couldn't get a picture of Lisa's waffle unfortunately.

Breakfast at the Broadmoor Hotel. Leroy ate enough sausage for the three of us.  Couldn’t get a picture of Lisa’s waffle unfortunately.

 

Judo Update

This past April, I traveled to Brazil for the Grand Prix Infraero in Santo Andre, Brazil.  There were more than 150 visually impaired judo athletes from a dozen countries.  I went 3-1 for the day, with three Ippon victories.  My only loss was to Sam Ingram from Great Britain.  He is the same guy who I lost to in London in 2012.  I fought him much better than I did in London and came close to beating him, but now I know what I need to do next time we fight.  (Can’t tell you what it is in case he reads this.  Ha!)  Still, it was my first tournament in eight months because of my shoulder injury, so I was pretty happy.

In May, I took gold at the U.S. Championships in Reno, NV.  The rest of this summer is really busy for me.  I am traveling to multiple training camps throughout the country in order to peak for the International Association of Blind Athletes World Games September 4-6th.  Two years ago, they were in Turkey.  This year, Colorado Springs is hosting them.  It’s my first qualifier to Rio 2016, so if you are anywhere near Colorado in September, you better get your judo on and come cheer me on.

Also this summer, I was promoted to black belt and learned a bunch of new songs on my saxophone.  Sometimes I don’t know which I’m more excited about.

Dartanyon’s Winter Adventures

Posted on February 5, 2014.

Hello Carry On Family,

The have been some interesting events over the past few months that I am excited to share with you all.  First, on January 23rd, I was awarded the Greater Cleveland Amateur Athlete of the Year Award.  It was an honor to even be nominated, but to win…wow.  I grew up hearing about those awards but never imagined being allowed in the door let alone up on stage.  Ironically, my roommate at the Olympic Training Center, Jason, was also nominated.  He is a fencer from Elyria, Ohio.  Sorry Jason!

Over Christmas, Uncle Bob and Aunt Paige took Leroy and me skiing in Winter Park, Colorado.  I took to it fairly easy, and it is something I definitely want to do again.  I think it’s my new favorite winter activity after sitting inside.  Leroy had the harder job on the mono ski.  And he wasn’t used to the altitude like I am either.  The only downside which really isn’t much, is that because of it being an adaptive ski program, I had to wear a “Blind Skier Bib.” All it does is rob you of your dignity.  I will not be wearing that again.  They also surprised us by flying Lisa out to watch us.  Super awesome.

I also received a saxophone for Christmas from Aunt Paige and Uncle Bob. It has been an instrument that I have always wanted to play but just never had the means to afford it. I have been playing it pretty much every day since I got it. I am making progress but I still have a long way to go. My roommate, Jason, plays and is helping me along the way.  YouTube has also been a huge help.

I am back to training and school has started.  I am taking two classes again, Philosophy and Psychology.  It’s weird, but I am actually excited for school.  Really loving it.  Thank you all again for your love and support.

Dartanyon

 

Not liking this ski bib.

Really not liking this ski bib.

Thank you Aunt Paige and Uncle Bob!

Thank you Aunt Paige and Uncle Bob!

Leroy was The Man on that monoski.  Really admire him.

Leroy was The Man on that monoski. Really admire him.

Maybe Lisa and ESPN will do a skiing feature on us next.  Ha!

Maybe Lisa and ESPN will do a skiing feature on us next. Ha!

 

P.S. From Lisa -

I was gifted with the opportunity to fly out and see Leroy and Dartanyon ski for the first time.  (Thank you Bob and Paige!!)  We couldn’t have asked for a better ski day – fresh powder, warm sun, zero wind and our own adaptive guides.  Heaven.  Leroy and Dartanyon looked quite chic in their new ski gear.  It took over an hour for Leroy to be properly fitted in a mono ski, particularly to find poles with arm bands big enough to fit over his bulging biceps! He looked a little unsure of the whole thing, but once out on the snow, he was a natural.  His guides said they had never before see a mono skier do what he was able to do on his first day.  Hardly surprising to the rest of us, as it is Leroy.

Dartanyon had the easier time on the slopes but a harder time with wardrobe.  As he mentioned, he had to wear a bib that said “Blind Skier” in some of the biggest black letters you’ve ever seen, to alert other skiers who might assume he can easily seem them coming.  After a few hours of good laughs at his expense, we decided that next time in solidarity, we will all wear ski bibs broadcasting our greatest limitation. But Dartanyon was fantastic, a natural, as always.

More mountains moved in this idyllic day.

Leroy's Holiday Highlights

Posted on February 5, 2014.

Happy Belated New Year, Peeps!  Ha ha!

This holiday season was amazing.  No, not because I received gifts – I have never been that kid. I was surrounded by some of my favorite people. Christmas Eve, I was with my Arizona family: Alicia, Patrick, Dylan, and Marleigh.  I invited one of my best friends over to spend the holidays with us as well. I woke up to the most beautiful faces on Christmas day – everyone had a smile. The kids were happy, Pat and Alicia were happy, and I was surrounded by love so I was ecstatic. I was also very tired since I never usually get much sleep around Christmas. So after we opened presents, I fell back to sleep. We went across the street to Aunt Kathy’s house for dinner with the family.  After a wonderful dinner, I headed to karaoke with my friends Riot and Chris.  We sang our butts off.

After a night of karaoke, I woke up early to go to Colorado to see  Aunt Paige and Uncle Bob.  Unfortunately there was an accident on the highway, leaving Uncle Bob stuck in traffic. It would have taken him hours to get to me at the airport in Denver, but only 45 minutes for me to get to him. Aunt Paige got me a ride, I hopped in the car and popped on Kickass 2. When the movie was done I was getting out of the car at Qdoba. I greeted Uncle Bob with a hug. With each second of our embrace, he felt every emotion I felt since we had last hugged. I got a burrito then got in his car to head to the house.

Instantly, when we got in the car he asked something like “What did you get yourself into?”  The entire car ride home, I buried his ears in issues. Hopes, worries, problems, flaws (that I have), and the most important ones: love and life.

We got home in one piece and were greeted at the garage door by the angel of hugs, Aunt Paige. When I hugged her it was a different embrace from hugging Uncle Bob, but still filled with many of the same emotions. Her hug radiated pure love and at the climax of the hug Uncle Bob put his hand on my head. Instantly, I felt…. safe. Then he said, “Come on Jabba the Butt” and I nearly died with laughter. Both Uncle Bob and I melted into the couch…. (WHAT?? Don’t you look at me like that, it was a long car ride). We watched a few shows and movies. Aunt Paige made the most amazing and healthy meal I have ever had. (When I got back to Arizona, I wanted to puke every time I smelled fat.) We then ate dinner, enjoyed some quality time, then off to bed.

The next day, Aunt Paige made a tasty but healthy breakfast and we got the day started… I read for a few hours because I don’t really get many chances for complete and utter silence.  After a few hours of being glued to the couch with my eyes stapled to my kindle, I finally moved… I had to potty! (LOL) After that, Aunt Paige and I had a heart-to-heart talk

Then the petite beautiful flower by the name of Monica, came to give us massages. She worked through TWENTY-THREE YEARS of pain, hatred, tension, and loss. I felt as if she turned a mountain into a beach. I felt as if I was a new guy when I got back upstairs, very slowly.

The next day, Aunt Paige went to pick up Dartanyon in Denver.  There were some hitches with travels and traffic.  They made it back around midnight, and when I got to the garage, I grew suspicious.  I saw Dar and Aunt Paige and someone else.  I said, “What’s up, bro…And come out from behind the car little white lady.”  Our surprise was Lisa!  Her birthday present was a surprise trip to Colorado. We weren’t supposed to know about it, but I’m the world’s greatest detective. She tried to hide behind the car so I would not see her.

Even though I just had a life changing massage, Lisa can see through to my soul. The embrace of a mother is what I always look forward to. When I was in therapy last year, I came to the conclusion that I have mommy and daddy issues, which resulted in trust issues toward everyone.  In 2009, Lisa pierced the metal, stone, and ice I coated my heart with. I know I have a mother, but destiny made a very strange family out of Dartanyon, Lisa and me.  I felt safer than ever before, in the arms of Lisa. The hug ended after my momentary loss of reality and existence, and I took some of the groceries to the kitchen.

The next morning we found out that we were signed up for skiing. Dar had to wear a bib that said BLIND SKIER.  I was on one ski with a seat on it, kind of like a unicycle.  The guides were surprised I did as well as I did my first time, skiing. I had a crap ton of fun on that mountain: nice powder, freaking great wipe outs, and watching Lisa run down the mountain to get pictures of me.

Wipe out quietly or take out everyone with me?  That was my biggest question of the day as I was shredding the mountain.  I chose wipe out without victims of course, so I dipped and dodged every person on the slopes, but by doing that I hit a pole in the ground. That was my worst wipe out.  Another wipe out happened when I was learning to stop.  I was shredding once again, tried to stop but ended up coming closer and closer to Aunt Paige. I went over the back of her skis, dodging her.

The rest of the visit I would like to keep to myself.  You know, memories that are all family things: deep conversations, family movies, Dar and I beating ourselves in pool (billards).  He is up by three games by the way.  I will have to play for a million years to beat Uncle Bob.

Took nearly two hours to be properly fitted for my first monoski

Took nearly two hours to be properly fitted for my first monoski

Look out mountain, here I come.

Look out mountain, here I come.

Enjoying the slopes with Dar and Lisa

Enjoying the slopes with Dar and Lisa

Uncle Bob and Aunt Paige

Uncle Bob and Aunt Paige

It's a Wonderful Life

It’s a Wonderful Life

 

Leroy Visits San Francisco

Posted on December 31, 2013.

In mid December, I had the opportunity to return to San Francisco and work under some of the artists I met on my first trip last July.  That first trip out there was about meeting people and seeing the industry first hand. This trip was all business.  Though I don’t think I want to work in mobile gaming, the artists at DeNA saw Carry On on ESPN and offered to help me put guide me in creating a strong portfolio.

During the days, Sarah Fuchs, the Head of Culture & Communication at DeNA, holed me up in a conference room so I could focus on my work.  Sarah introduced me Gary Laib, the Art Director at DeNA.  Gary spent an hour talking to me about quality portfolio work and showed me his portfolio.  After that hour of very useful information, Sarah who is vegan, witnessed me eat a meat lover’s pizza for lunch.

I also met Lori Friedenberg, who is a Performance and Development manager at DeNA.  She spent some time chatting with me, and at that point I needed that.  Senior Art Director Yukiko Arikawa took a look at my sketches.  On many of my sketches, my strokes were short and hard.  She could see my stress in them.  But the sketches I did while watching “Never Back Down 2” were loose, long strokes.  She really helped me see the importance of relaxing and letting things flow without trying too hard.

After Kiko’s therapy session with me, Sarah and I packed up for our trip to Zynga to check out the digs and meet up with Clive Downie, the former CEO of DeNA and current COO of Zynga.  Clive, Sarah, and I caught up more and enjoyed a nice San Francisco sunset.  Clive had to go to a meeting, so Sarah and I were given a tour of Zynga. Then I almost had a seizure from this tunnel of flashing lights in the entrance of Zynga.  But dinner that evening with Clive and Sarah was filled with better vibes, good food and great conversation.

On the second day of San Fran, I worked with another talented DeNA artist named Steve.  He went over my work gave me some advice on my frustrations when I draw. He followed by giving me a few things to work on for the day.  I spent the entire day drawing in that same room, sometimes alone, sometimes with Gary alongside me.  And one point, Lori came in with some music and had a little dance party.  It gave me a good sense of what it will be like to work a full day in an office setting.  A day of drawing, listening to music and sharing great company is a good day.  The people in DeNA love me, so I felt very welcome.

Later Sarah and I had dinner with a local radio host.  He had premier tickets to Anchorman 2. I had a great time, although I didn’t like some of the movie’s jokes. But Sarah’s laughter kept me laughing.  As Sarah walked me back to my hotel, I explained to her how much I needed this trip.  And after a good night of sleep, it was back to the office for a third and final day of work and time spent with inspiring people.  It was a trip of great learning and fun.  I am incredibly blessed to have this opportunity to make myself better before I begin interviewing for jobs.

Hope everyone has a great Christmas and a happy New Year!

Love you all!

Leroy

Dartanyon Spreading Cheer in Colorado

Posted on December 24, 2013.

Hello my Carry On Family!  The past month has been a great one. Toward the end of November, I organized a clothing drive to help keep the homeless warm this winter in Colorado Springs.  I shared my idea with the Olympic Training Center folks and with a few other friends. The response was way better than I had hoped.  I asked for clothing such as jackets, coats, scarves, hats and gloves.  I collected clothes for nearly two weeks.  Then we needed a place to go with them. With the help of my tutor, Candace, we found a perfect place downtown.  It is called the Marian House, and it’s a soup kitchen. But we didn’t just go and drop off our trunkloads of clothes and go.  Instead, we personally handed these items out to the people there in need.  We set up a table, matched people with the proper sizes, allowed them to choose what they wanted and in the process, got to know a lot of their personal stories.  I certainly could connect with them having been homeless myself, and it was an amazing feeling to know that my past could be used for good.  The feeling that I had seeing the faces of joy on their faces was indescribable.  Just for something simple to help keep them a little warmer and letting them know someone was thinking of them.  Now I need to figure out how to do more.  And I will.

I have also decided to spend Christmas here in Colorado for the first time.  I have done a lot of traveling this year and am a bit tired.  Looking forward to staying grounded for a while.  I will be spending Christmas Day with a friend of mine, named Emily. She is a native of Colorado, and she has graciously extended an invitation for me to spend Christmas with her and her family.  The day after Christmas, I will be going up to Winter Park, Colorado with Leroy to visit our Uncle Bob and Aunt Paige.  We met them four years ago after they saw our first ESPN feature and reached out to help us.  They have been part of a circle of people who have shown us enormous support and love over these last four years.

My shoulder is feeling 100% better, so I am hoping last month’s PRP injection did the trick.  Looking forward to competing again next spring.  And I finished my semester with Bs in my English and Public Speaking classes.  Best grades yet and it feels great.

Merry Christmas to you all!