Losing vision would probably be one of the most unimaginable curve balls we definitely don’t want to happen in our life. For guest, Amy Dixon, losing her sense of sight became one of the best things that ever happened to her. In this episode, she sits down with Rodney Flowers to talk about how her life’s journey and transformation since she lost her vision at the age of 22. Amy is an eight-time gold medalist, a USA Triathlon National Champion, the first blind female Xterra finisher, the founder of the Camp No Sight No Limits, and the president of Glaucoma Eyes International. Proving how you don’t need to have sight to have vision, Amy inspires us in this conversation about navigating all types of obstacles that may come our way. She talks about the many opportunities that can be found out in the world, reminding us not to lose hope when doors close in on us. Especially relevant in today’s chaotic time, Amy then helps us gain perspective on the things we have control over, learning how to make everything happen for you and not to you.
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Navigating The Obstacles Of 2020: Gaining Perspective From Losing Vision With Amy Dixon
I’m going to be speaking with someone who does not allow excuses to get in the way of her dreams, goals, missions or objectives in life. This lady is an eight-time international gold medalist. She’s a USA Triathlon National Champion. She’s a USA Paracycling National Champion. She’s the first blind female XTERRA finisher. She’s the Founder of Camp No Sight No Limits and the President of Glaucoma Eyes International, which is a nonprofit serving eye disease patients globally. I am excited, honored and privileged to introduce Ms. Amy Dixon to the show.
Welcome to the show, Amy.
Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it. I’m excited to be here.
I don’t know if you’re as excited as I am. I’m impressed with you not only by everything that you’ve been able to accomplish but the type of person that you are to be able to accomplish that with all of the adversity and all of the reasons to say, “I quit. I give up. It’s too hard. It’s too challenging.” Whatever it is but you’ve decided to do the opposite, to go in the direction of the challenge and win. I want to get into your head. I want to get to know you as a person. I want to understand what has allowed you to accomplish those accomplishments. I was looking at your website and there’s something that stood out to me. You have a quote on your website that says, “You don’t have to have sight to have vision.” I like to dive into your thought process behind that.
It sounds like the strangest thing and I’m sure another fellow athlete with a disability, you can relate to this on some levels. I think that losing my sight was one of the best things that ever happened to me. That sounds strange to a lot of people. I learned more about myself, people and my perception of limits. After losing my sight, I had no perspective of what my life or anybody’s life without vision was going to look like. It wasn’t until this happened to me. I went through the process of grieving and moving on from the loss that I realized that the best of my best years were in front of me and not behind me. Just because I can’t see, it doesn’t mean I can’t do all the things that I did before except for drive a car, and Tesla is working on that. There are no limits to what I can do. They’re in my head. That’s the bigger battle.
Tell us a little bit about what happened, Amy. It sounds like you weren’t born without sight and something happened.
For the most part, I’m fully sighted until age 22 when I got diagnosed. I had rheumatic fever as a child when I was ten years old that had caused temporary vision loss. At that time, the doctors told my mother that this is either temporary or something that was going to be a chronic disease. About twelve years later, I was working in the restaurant business at night in order to pay for a school, like a lot of kids do in college and burning the candle at both ends. I worked in the restaurant business and I was a kid on a partial scholarship, I had no health insurance and I couldn’t afford to go see the doctor. I would work at the restaurant and I started to go pour wine or water into glasses and kept missing. I was like, “Gosh.” My boss yelled at me and said, “You’ve got to slow down and you’ve got to pay attention.” I remember running in and out of the kitchen to grab food and slamming into the busboys and things like that. Everybody’s like, “You’re not paying attention. You’ve got to slow down, go home and take a nap.” I thought, “Something is wrong with me.”
My vision was 20/20 so there wasn’t any reason to think that there was something wrong with my eyesight. It wasn’t until I was driving home one night that the glare from an oncoming car caused me to run off the road. I kept seeing spots in front of my eyes for a minute after the car pass. Luckily, I didn’t hit anything, I ran up an embankment but it was enough that I decided to go see my doctor. I had no money to go to the doctor, so this is a big financial investment on my part. I suffer from migraines since I was nine years old.
I went to go see my neurologist because he wouldn’t refill my medication until I came in for my annual visit. I went to see him and I told him, “I keep missing things and bumping into things. I’ve got this flashing going on in front of my eyes.” Sometimes with migraine, you can get what’s called aura where you get this flashing light before you have a headache. I thought that’s a logical explanation and seem reasonable. He held his hands out to the side and said, “How many fingers am I holding up?” I said, “That’s funny. Your arms are missing.” He’s like, “That’s not normal.” “It’s like a black curtain on either side of your body.” He said, “We’re going to go downstairs and we’re going to go see an ophthalmologist.” I said, “There’s nothing wrong with my eyes.” He goes, “Young lady, you may have detached your retina.” I thought, “That’s ridiculous. I can see just fine.” He said, “One of the symptoms is trauma vision,” which is what I was experiencing. He marched me downstairs to the ophthalmologist who took one look in the back of my eyes.
The first thing he asked me if I had been sick, which I thought was odd question given that we were talking about my eyesight. We weren’t talking about my overall health. I said, “I had a sinus infection a couple of months ago. I went on the Z-Pak. Nothing crazy.” He goes, “Okay.” They all start talking amongst themselves in a whisper, loud enough that I can hear and I said, “I’m in the room. What’s going on?” I was in pharmacy school at that time, so I wasn’t an idiot. I had half a decent knowledge of the medical field. They kept saying, “We’re going to wait until the specialist comes up and we’ve called him. We’ve seen this once in a journal.” I thought that’s not good whenever they say something like that.
They called up this expert named Dr. Yannuzzi. He came up and took one look in the back of my eyes. He confirmed the diagnosis that I had this rare type of inflammatory eye disease that was related to an autoimmune disease. When I had the sinus infection, it triggered an immune reaction and sent antibodies against my retina and caused permanent scarring to form causing permanent blindness all in the periphery of my retina. If you look at a round mirror, your eye is like a mirror and light comes in, hits the mirror and it reflects back out. That’s the image that we see. In my case, all around the edges of the mirror was covered in black scar tissue. If you think about a healthy lung versus a smoker’s lung, the smoker’s lung are all around the edges. The light can never penetrate the scar tissue so I was seeing blackness there. It was happening gradually over time. I didn’t notice it until I started bumping into things. They told me that there was no treatment for it other than they could hope to slow it down a little bit with chemotherapy and steroids. That was the beginning of my very long medical journey.
What was your initial reaction to that?
Being a punk-ass 22-year-old kid, I called them a couple of choice names and told them they were full of crap. I said, “What are you guys talking about? I can see fine. You are making this up.” I literally grabbed him. I remember it was a Friday afternoon, it was Halloween. I was working at the restaurant and I thought, “I’m going to lose my job. I’m going to be late for work.” I’m trying to call my boss and explain to him I’m stuck in some eye doctor’s office, they’re holding me hostage and won’t let me leave. I’m like, “This is my big money night. I need to go to make my tips. I’ve got to go.” I was living paycheck-to-paycheck or barely making it paycheck-to-paycheck. I remember scraping for change for gas money in my car. I was more fearful of that than the eye disease at that time.
I couldn’t understand or wrap my head around the fact that I thought I was seeing fine. I bolted out of that office, went to work and continue living my life for the next couple of weeks until I had a couple more near misses, I fell down the stairs and broke my ribs. I actually went to my pediatrician of all people. I said, “Dr. Bart, these crazy people think I’m losing my eyesight. I think they’re full of crap.” He looked it up and he goes, “I hate to break it to you. They’re right. You’ve got to deal with this.” I was angry and terrified because I had been very independent. I’d lived on my own since I was seventeen. I always had a job from the time I was nine years old and always had my own money. I bought my car. I’m very independent. My mom was a single mom. I was always of the mindset that you work hard. If you want something, you pay for it yourself and you figure your way out, that’s what you do. If it means you’ve got to go flip burgers at McDonald’s or work at 4:00 in the morning before school, you do it. If you want something bad enough or if you need a way to get from point A to point B and you need to have a car to get there, you’ve got to figure it out.
I lived in an area that didn’t have public transportation. I grew up in a rural area horse country. There were no buses or taxis. I had to put gas in my car and I had to have a car. The thought of losing my independence, not being able to drive, and the worst possible thing in my mind was having to move back in with my mother. She’s a great person, but it’s not what I envisioned for myself at 22 years old. I was like, “I don’t have to run on my mother.” All of a sudden, I’m going to have to do that because I didn’t know anybody who is blind or visually impaired. My only experience was people on the New York City subway, they were begging for change, they were blind, had a cane and I thought, “That’s going to be my life. What am I going to do? I’m never going to be able to work. I’m never going to be able to be a pharmaceutical researcher that I dreamed of being.” I was pissed and scared. I went through that whole process and the denial that comes along with it. I tried to push through it and pretend that nothing was happening until I realized I couldn’t look through a microscope anymore when I was trying to complete my final exams. My professors were accommodating and doing the best they could, but there were limitations to what they could help me with. I had to reset my goals.
Amy, most people, when they’re in a situation like this, it is common to feel the way you’ve described but it stops right there. There’s this feeling of, “I can’t go on. I can’t express the vision that I have for myself. I can’t do things. There are too many limitations and challenges. I can’t see my way through this.” You kept going. What allowed you to navigate all of those negative thoughts, limiting challenges and press beyond that towards this new vision that you talked about. You had a new vision. We started the show with you saying that you don’t have to have sight to have a vision. What allowed you to navigate all of the challenges and resistance that was there in order to start pursuing your new vision?You don't have to have sight to have vision. Click To Tweet
I am not a religious person but I do believe in the very cliché that when God closes a door, he opens a window. My parents had been divorced since I was seven, but my father passed away suddenly six months after I got diagnosed with my eye disease. I grew up on a horse farm. Throughout college, I was not able to ride horses because it’s a very expensive sport. It’s not something that you can afford to do when you’re waiting tables at night and going to school during the day. That was a luxury I no longer had. I had forgotten my father was in a wheelchair before he passed. He had a traumatic brain injury. He was in a bad crane accident. He was a machine operator for a big construction company. He had a horse that I thought he had sold many years ago but apparently, he held onto it. It was living in Upstate New York. When he passed and I found out that I suddenly inherited a horse, number one, I panicked because I thought, “I have no money to feed myself. This is the worst inheritance ever.” I didn’t have car but I have horse.
I thought it’s a sign. I miss riding with a visceral sense and I thought I’ve been riding horses before I could walk. My mother always says I was always better on four legs than two because I was notoriously a klutz. Ironically, I was bumping things and hurting myself catastrophic skiing and things like that. She always thought I was safer on the horse. I thought this was a sign I get back into riding. I had no money to take care of this horse. I was terrified and frustrated. I was living with my college boyfriend at that time and he goes, “We’ll figure it out.” I did. I got up at 4:00 in the morning and I was mucking stalls at the local barn in order to pay for it to keep a roof over my horse’s head and then mine, and then waiting tables at night and going to school during the day. I don’t recommend that schedule by the way, but I was blissfully happy. I suddenly found something that I had missed for so long, I found a new purpose. I thought, “I can’t be a blind pharmacist. Vicodin and aspirin all looks the same.” Unfortunately, it’s not a thing.
I thought, “That door is closed.” My boyfriend at that time said, “You’ve always talked about how much you miss working with horses. This is something you can do even without sight or with limited vision. Let’s see where this goes.” I switched my major from Pharmacy to Equine Business Management. I started teaching riding lessons on this horse that I inherited and to have a little bit of an income, so I put the horse to work. I started showing him, competing him and winning a little bit of money enough that I was breaking even to set the horse was earning his keep. I was incredibly happy. It made me feel very independent and very able-bodied during this transition from me being sighted to not. Mind you at that time, I was still driving. I was still legal to drive at this point.
I was driving a little longer than I should have, but I did hold on to horses as a new career, but I found out very quickly that it takes a lot of money to make that a viable career. It was the right thing at the right time. It showed me a path forward that these are the things you are still able to do. It reminded me that I’m able-bodied in ways that I had forgotten about and just because you had your heart set on one goal, it doesn’t mean there aren’t other goals out there for you. Being open to that and saying yes to new opportunities. Looking at them as opportunities and not a backup plan or a plan B or C. You have to keep an open mind and an open-heart.
I appreciate that because this is the epitome of pivoting. I have a mentor that I’m very close and I love. He wrote the book called Pivot. His name is Adam Markel. It’s a great book. This is something that he teaches about whenever you’re in a crisis, any type of situation or you feel unhappy and you want to explore what’s possible for you, that’s an indication that it’s time for pivot. Pivoting is very hard for people especially in a crisis like this. Most often, we want to travel the road that we’ve set for ourselves. If that’s not available, then we feel like there’s no hope. What allowed you to have the strength and the courage to make a pivot like this?
I’ll be honest with you, my mom was a great role model in this. Her life ended up being very different from what it started. Being married to my dad and then getting divorced. She was a very young woman at the time. She was 31 years old and two young girls trying to figure out her way. She was a housekeeper. She was a cleaning lady for a couple of very wealthy families in Westchester, New York. It’s a very ritzy area of the country. She had this Divorce Women’s Group that was this great group of strong women that empowered each other. She put herself through wallpapering school and started her own wallpaper business.
It was these beautiful, attractive young women that is exactly what you think of in these cute outfits and these little white Oxford shirts. They would come and wallpaper people’s homes. My mother being of German descent is very OCD, very particular and meticulous. It was a perfect job for her. She loves creating, working with her hands and she loves doing manual labor. She likes working hard and getting a good sweat on. Watching her go from putting herself through wallpapering school, my aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors were watching us while she went up to Vermont for two months to learn this new trade at a young age and put every dime she had into this starting over not knowing if it was going to be successful. Here she is, she’s 70 years old and she’s still hanging wallpaper. It’s amazing.
Watching her pivot and make something for herself, and certainly, we’re not rich. I was talking to you about living on fish sticks, being a latchkey kid and having to figure out dinner in the afternoons. We never wanted for anything. We didn’t know that we didn’t have a lot of money. We knew that the roof needed fixing. We knew that sometimes we couldn’t afford vacations and things like that, but I never felt like I was missing anything in my life and I give my mom a lot of credit. If there was a doll we wanted, somehow she would work extra hours or get another job and make that happen for Christmas. It was important to her to make sure that we felt like we were equal to our peers in this neighborhood that was way above our pay grade. I give her a lot of credit for teaching me how to pivot.
You mentioned that becoming blind was the greatest thing to have happened to you, which is very polarizing. What’s changed now that you are here? You’re on the other side of this, you’re looking back and it’s the greatest thing that happened to you. What makes you say that?
I have met people like yourself that I never would have met had that not happened to me and had I not gone through that. I have seen the limits of human kindness and generosity that would never have been bestowed to me otherwise or to people that I care about. I would have never known some people, strangers that have reached out and shared their stories with me about what they’re going through, vision loss, chemo, limb loss, traumatic injuries and things like that, that would have never shared their stories with me otherwise. It taught me empathy. I lived in my own bubble. Prior to that, I know I did and I was very content in my bubble. This forced me outside of myself and realize that it’s not about me sometimes and most of the time. Learning to be open to change and realizing that the only thing in life that’s constant is change and being okay with that. Rather than being afraid of it, I’m looking at it as an adventure because every door that’s closed for me has led to something better. I don’t realize it at that time, it might be a month, six months or two years down the road, I’ll be like, “I dodged a bullet.”
I’m not a religious person but I do believe that there are things in life that weren’t meant for you and that’s okay. Maybe this is and it’s not what you would originally intended but here you are like, “I never would have imagined that I’d be here.” I’m grateful that I’ve gained that perspective through losing my vision. I’m grateful for learning so much about this disease and now being able to share that information with other people to help them jump the line as far as either getting treatment sooner, getting better access to doctors, learning about medication programs that they may not have known about because they don’t have health insurance, and getting them in touch with patient advocates who can help them get free or low-cost drugs or help them connect with specialists in other countries and help them arrange transportation to get there, flying them there through the local Lion’s Club. All these things that are so not about me anymore, and I’ve been able to use my vision loss as a way to pay it forward and help people in my position to have more success and be able to hold onto the vision even longer.
You mentioned that you’ve been able to gain a perspective from losing your vision. That’s such a powerful statement because when challenges come up or we lose something that’s very dear to us and we have no control over it, be it a loved one, opportunity, job, career path or whatever it is, we seem to focus on what we lose. I love the fact that you’re exuding what you’ve gained in this conversation, which is missed sometimes. What would you say to a person who is in a situation right now, that they’re feeling that loss, pain and hurt? What’s your message to them?
It’s okay to be angry and upset. That’s a perfectly normal and logical response to a loss. You have to own it, feel it, go through all that process and you have a right to punch, scream, kick, cry and do all those things that are completely part of the process. That’s your start but don’t stay there. I tend to gravitate towards anger rather than being upset because anger tends to lead to action for me. If I’m pissed off, I’m like, “I’m going to do something about this. I’m going to make a change. I don’t want to stay like this. I don’t want to feel like this.” I get pissed at it and look at it as an entity. I wrap my head around that and like, “This stinks. What am I going to do about it? What are my options?”
I write down my options. I can call this doctor. I can research my disease. I can get myself set up for handicap transit or set-up for grocery delivery. What are the things that I can control? Control the controllable. I believe that knowledge is power. Whatever it is that you’re facing or you’re dealing with, arm yourself with as much information from as many sources as you can. Be careful of doctor Google, as I always say. Everybody starts looking at Doctor Google, you’re going to scare the crap out of yourself on the internet but that’s okay. Find as many different opinions, perspectives, try to find the expert in whatever it is that you’re tackling, whether it’s a disease, job loss or whatever it is. Find the expert that’s related to what you’re dealing with and then read as much as you can about it.
Feel empowered that you’ve got the knowledge now to make a good decision and then act. Take that anger and act, have conviction, stick to it and be like, “I’m doing this. Game on.” See what happens. Now, you’re in control. The situation is not controlling you anymore. You have taken ownership of it. That’s how I feel. I can do everything right with my disease. I can try to stay healthy, stay away from sick people because it’s not an autoimmune condition but sometimes the universe goes, “I’m going to put you in the middle of a flare and your eye disease is going to be active again.” Do you know what I do? I’ll say, “I’ll call my doctor, make an appointment, get in right away, stay on top of it, take my medication on time, report any symptoms.” I am like my own advocate. I fight for myself. I make sure that I call insurance companies. I am like a bull in a China shop and I’m a bear to deal with, but I fight for myself. That’s what I tell people. Arm yourself with information and prepare to do some battle for yourself. That’s how you take ownership of things. When you feel like you’re being ganged up on and things are happening to you, make things happen for yourself. You can totally own it.
How do you take the emotion out of it?
I don’t. I channel it in anger and action.
You said you leverage. You’re not saying that you don’t feel pity, sorry or upset sometimes. You totally feel those things and you leverage it.
We’re human. If I wasn’t, I’ll be a robot. It’s what I do with it. I don’t stay there, I’m like, “That suck. I’m bummed. Now what? Who can I call? Who can help me with this?” You’ve got people and we all have people, use your network, call your people, get some minds on it, brainstorm, use your friends, family, doctors, whoever it is that’s in your circle. As you said, they want to help. You can accomplish a whole lot by yourself. You can do a decent amount by yourself but it takes a village and I am so grateful. I surround myself with people that are way smarter than me. That is key to success for tackling any big problem like that. Surround yourself with people that know more about it than you do, use it and channel it.
I listened to a lot of Ray Lewis’ inspiration and motivation. You’re taking me there, which is an energy because he has this thing about getting pissed off for greatness. Being in that type of energy is like when you’re pissed off, you’re angry for greatness. A lot of good things can come out of that because you’re taking energy and you’re directing it in the right way. You pointed it at something positive and it’s greatness. I love these whole sports ideas, being an athlete, getting hyped up and pumped, you have that energy about things, and then you can channel that towards something positive. You don’t have to be an athlete to do that. That has been the key for me being an athlete and dealing with this type of injuries, it’s a big challenge but I’ve had grit about it.
I’m still going to win. I’m in a game, it’s 4th freaking quarter, I’m down a bunch of points and I’m planning for the miracle. That’s what I’m doing. I’m pissed off that I’m down, but I’m not giving up. We’ve got to fight on our hands and we’re going to keep going until the clock runs out. That’s what it is. When you embody that, you adopt that philosophy, that’s when I feel you are the epitome of unstoppable. You can’t stop at that point, regardless because it’s a mentality that you have and it doesn’t matter what comes your way, this is how you’re going to approach it. It’s the key to success on many levels whether you’re an athlete on a game, you run a business, you’re a corporate professional or you’re dealing with some type of personal issue. It’s how you respond and react to.When you feel like you're being ganged up on and things are happening to you. Make things happen for yourself. Click To Tweet
Like what’s going on with the COVID-19 and with the Olympics being postponed a year. We talk about pivoting and talk about people learning walking a mile. As somebody who is visually impaired, social isolation is my life and as somebody who’s been training for the Paralympics now since 2014, I trained for Rio and now leading up to Tokyo was supposed to happen. We found out that the game is going to be postponed due to COVID-19. Talking about pivoting, when you’ve been trying to peak as an athlete or something you’ve been training for, and suddenly that goalpost has been moved the entire year back and you’re going, “Holy hell.”
First and foremost, I am grateful that it was the right decision for everyone involved for the health of myself, spectators and people worldwide. There are much bigger problems right now than us athletes training for the Olympic games. This is a first-world problem I say, but it’s still a loss. Trying to wrap your head around that, this was going to be my one and only games. Looking at the reality of having to train at this level 6 to 7 hours a day, seven days a week for another year is daunting and exhausting mentally and physically. Financially, it’s very expensive. I had some sponsorship leading up to the games but asking them to be like, “Can you support me for a whole other year?”
When they’re laying off employees and don’t have a disposable income to fund a Paralympic athlete, it feels frivolous in this time given what people are trying to fight for ventilators and masks. It’s been a rough five days of trying to pivot and adjust. I was planning on retiring after these games and focusing on coaching and working as a Patient Advocate for eye disease patients. I spent thousands of dollars every month trying to keep my body going in PT, active release technique, acupuncture and chiropractic, all these specialists that put Humpty Dumpty back together again. I beat the hell out of my body as a professional athlete and trying to think of like, “I have another year of feeding myself into oblivion on a daily basis.”
I tell myself I can do anything for a year but it’s a little overwhelming when I’m looking at it. Watching people adjust to this new normal with COVID-19 and having to be relegated to home, shopping from home, and all the things that I do on a daily basis as an athlete with a disability, it’s been good to see people gain perspective of what my life looks like. It’s been very interesting. A lot of people have reached out to check in on me and I’m like, “I’m doing okay because this is normal for me. Welcome to my life.” It’s been a dose of reality for a lot of people.
I laugh that they think that this is a massive hardship of staying at home. I’m like, “Our parents and grandparents lived through wars and things that are far worse than what we’re dealing with other than staying at home.” You’re fighting over toilet paper, it’s perspective. I wouldn’t wish international pandemic on the world but if anything good comes out of this, it’s what I gained from losing my sight. I hope the public gains from this experience, they learn to appreciate each other, their health and things that are important which is your family and your health. That comes first and everything else is secondary.
Things can be replaced. Cars can be replaced. You can get another job. It may not be the job that you want or had making $60,000 to $70,000 a year. You might be making $40,000 a year. Maybe you need a Honda rather than a Lexus. This will be a big reset for a lot of people. The thing that concerns me are people like my mom back when I was a kid, people that are working hourly wage or self-employed that were living paycheck-to-paycheck. My heart breaks for people like that because there’s no backup plan when things like this happen. I tell people that’s when you are as strong as your community and family, and that’s when you learn to lean on each other and you have to learn to ask for help. For me, one of the hardest things as someone who’s always been very fiercely independent and having good role models, asking for help was the hardest thing when I first started losing my sight. I think that’s going to be hard for people right now. Unfortunately, they’re going to have to get over it. It sounds rough and blunt but you’ve got to have to suck it up. It’s a pride thing, I get it and I still have a hard time with it. I have a hard time asking my neighbor to take me to the grocery store, it makes me uncomfortable because I’m like, “I’m a professional athlete. I can walk. I am blind but my legs aren’t broken, so walk your ass to the store, girl. I’m being lazy. Throw your shit in the backpack and get it together.”
People are going to have to learn to say, “I can’t pay my rent this month.” They’ve got to call their landlord and say, “I lost my job.” Or call their mom or dad and be like, “I need groceries to feed my kids.” Those are hard conversations that are going to start happening with thousands and thousands of Americans right now. We have to get over ourselves and realize that everything in life is temporary. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. I still have a hard time with it, I have to remind myself of this and tell myself that it’s okay. People generally do want to help. If people don’t ask, it’s not because they don’t want to help, they’re uncomfortable asking. You’ve got to put yourself out there.
We’ve got to get over ourselves. I found that even for me when I needed help, I didn’t want to ask it because it was about me. When it’s about you, then it’s about how you feel, how you may look and everyone wants to look good. No one wants to look like they’re in need or can’t take care of themselves or whatever it is. I had to deal with that having a disability because thinking about what people think about you because you have a disability especially early on. I found that getting over yourself, what people think, what you think, people are going to feel or say about you or judge you and all of that because this whole concept is about you.
When we can think about the greater good, the community, the people that need us although we need help, there are people out there that need us as well. We need to put ourselves in the best position in order to serve and be there for them. If that means I need to ask for help to get myself in a place where I can be of help to someone else, then that’s what has to be done. The quicker we can get to that place, the quicker we can be of value to someone else. If you have a mindset that it’s about you and you don’t want to be judged, then you can’t even get out the gate. You’re at the starting line and you’re never going to start this race. We can’t use you. We’re going to put you on a bench.
This is a time to elevate our consciousness. I was on several interviews and it seems that everyone I got on the show, as soon as they came on, they would ask me before we started recording is, “How are you dealing with this COVID-19 issue?” I’m like, “I’m thriving. I thrive in these types of conditions.” I’m grateful that I’m healthy and I haven’t contracted the disease. I’m feeling good mentally because I’ve had to deal with adversity over half of my life. This isn’t new to me and I realized anything can happen.
This could be any type of national disaster. It’s all about how you respond to it and then looking at the good in it. When we talked about opportunities and adversity, there are several opportunities in this. For someone, it’s going to be the greatest thing that ever happened to them. It may be that person that feels like this is the worst thing. You and I can relate to that. First, it feels like it’s the worst thing. What allows it to become the greatest thing? It’s you, it’s the person, perception and the response to this. It’s opening up your mind and allowing the possibilities to present themselves. If we’re only focused on the negative and what’s wrong, then we can’t see that.
I love this because you don’t have to be blind to not be able to see it. It can be right in front of you and you can’t see it because of where you focus. You have to change the lens and your glasses so that you can see. I’ve been personally spending a lot of time thinking, “How can I pivot? What are the opportunities? What’s available in this quieting all of the noise?” I don’t listen to the news. I don’t listen to all of the stuff that’s going on because that’s a distraction. I don’t know if you feel this way, Amy, one of the things I feel that we, abled-body or folks that are on disability, have the advantage because that event put us in a place of isolation, which is where a lot of people are right now in isolation which in and of itself is the greatest thing that can happen to this world. I’m going to tell you why.
One of the most profound moments in my life was when I was in isolation after my accident, which was a very long period of time. In those moments, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of me, not just my name or my skillset, what had happened to me but spiritually. I gain a deeper connection spiritually of what’s possible for me, who I am, the value that I can bring, and the perceptions that are available. The way we see things, that’s all the choice. You can choose to see it differently. It changed me and it kept me from all of the distractions that don’t allow people to get to that place where you don’t see because we’re so distracted all our lives. Sometimes it takes something, the universe or God causing you to be steel to the point where you can’t move and the only thing you have available to you is to connect with yourself. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s funny that we don’t take the time consciously to make that decision for ourselves.
People are very uncomfortable with it. Our society is bred like a faster, stronger, better, pack more stuff into a day and is the mindset of everyone now, “How many activities can a kid do in a day? How many things can I get done before dinner? How many chores can I get done in the morning? How many workouts can I get in?” The more is better culture. People are very uncomfortable with being still. I laugh that people pay thousands of dollars to go to yoga and pay for meditation. They pay to be still because they’re craving it but people are so uncomfortable with it. Forcing people to be still right now is going to be a good universal reset for a lot of people. I’m hoping that there’s going to be a lot of good that comes out of this, I genuinely believe that. I know it because with every natural disaster or manmade disaster, something always good comes out of it. Ingenuity new innovations, new babies and all that stillness together.
Stillness is going to breed some amazing ideas, thinkers, doers, problem solvers, people that are much more in touch with themselves and more at peace going forward. People are going to gain a lot of perspectives when they have to go back to work and they suddenly realize that, “I am a very small blip on the radar in this world. My attitude and actions affect those around me.” Seeing how their actions affect their children, being home with their kids all day, suddenly homeschooling their children, realizing their energy and their response to what’s going on in the news. That’s affecting the energy at the household and their kids, what kids they’re raising, how confident they are and how confident they are in our leadership. I’m very excited to see the new United States that comes out after this. I think it’s going to be a more empowered group of individuals. Stillness is something that people are going to remember and I hope they do and that it was good for them.
People are going to realize how effective stillness is. Hopefully, it doesn’t take something like this for them to continue the practice stillness when this is over. Speaking of which, could you tell us what has allowed you to remain so consistent in your success? You talked about training for six years, it looks like you’re going to have to go another year. What is your key to sustainability with your mindset and your health to perform at a high level on a consistent basis?
It’s an innate curiosity to see what I can do and what my body can do when I don’t put a mental limitation on it. I’m 44 years old and the women that I’m competing against are in their 20s. I’m ranked number six in the world, number one in the United States and I’m getting faster. I haven’t found my physical limit yet and knock on wood, as long as I continue to stay uninjured and healthy, being able to explore those limits, push them and keep pushing them out despite a lot of physical limitations with my disease, it’s been cool and empowering. I’m like, “What can I do rather than what can’t I do? It’s what can I do. I didn’t know I could do that. That was surprising.” I’m constantly testing myself, always being a curiosity-seeker. I love learning new things. Every day, I learn more about the sport of triathlon, I realized how much more I have to learn and surrounding myself with smart people. That’s been made it sustainable, I have people that believe in me that are good cheerleaders, who are also experts in their field that I can tap into and guide me along the way. That’s going to keep me constantly curiosity seeking. Even after the Paralympics is over, there’s always going to be what’s next like, “Now, what can I do?”
The Paralympics isn’t an end goal for me, it’s an intermediate goal. I don’t even know what the next goal is because I want to see what I can do. I might go back to riding horses professionally, I don’t know. There’s a visually impaired tennis, which I’ve been curious about. Skiing is something that I’d like to go back to. All these things that physically I’d like to explore. I’m amazed by my friends who are also visually impaired. I started a camp for blind athletes and everybody says, “It’s great that you’re doing this to get back to the sport.” I’ll be honest with you. It was a little bit selfish of me because I wanted to surround myself with amazing people that lifted me up. I didn’t know what my next step was going to look like.
Meeting all of these athletes with various abilities and disabilities and seeing that they were attorneys, doctors, researchers, IT professionals and experts in many different fields and I’m going, “Wow.” A couple of them are totally blind. One is the first graduate of Harvard Law School and she did her entire post-graduate in braille. I am amazed by people like this. Everything that I thought I knew about blindness completely went out the window. One of the most empowering things that happened to me over the past few years was before the Boston Marathon. I was invited to a dinner for the athletes the night before the Boston Marathon for all the athletes with disabilities. They were showing a documentary about a blind athlete that ran the perimeter of Puerto Rico, the guy named Jason Romero.The key to success for tackling any big problem is surrounding yourself with people that know more about what you’re facing than you. Click To Tweet
It’s a 30-minute documentary, most of the people in the room were totally blind, and I have a little bit of vision. The totally blind athletes asked if I would narrate the movie for them. I was like, “You’re trusting me with this?” They’re like, “You do a great job. You clearly like to talk, so why don’t you tell us what’s going on? You can give us a running commentary of what’s happening.” It was such an enormous responsibility for me but it was the biggest gift that anybody’s ever given me in that I got to describe the movie. When it was over, I was in tears because my friend, Randy, he walked up to me and he has no vision or whatsoever. He goes, “That was such a great movie. It was amazing.” I said, “Randy, what are you talking about? You didn’t see it.” He goes, “I did. I got to see it through your eyes. You’re describing the rain that was coming down sideways in front of the headlights of the car as he’s running up the hill and his sneakers got blood on the toes because his feet are so mangled. I saw it. I saw that whole movie.” I thought, “This is what my life looks like.”
I’m continuing to lose my vision. I’ll probably be totally blind with the next four or five years. For me to know that I’m going to be able to see, even when I can’t see, but in a different way than I had imagined for myself and Randy showing and encouraging me to do this description of the movie. He gave me such a gift and knowing that I’m going to be doing things a little bit differently than I had thought for my life. I started this Camp surrounding myself with people like Randy and these guys who are totally blind and seeing that there’s absolutely nothing to be afraid of when that time comes because I know it’s coming. I said, “The only thing that I’m honestly afraid of is eating spoiled food in the refrigerator.” I don’t want to eat rotten strawberries. Learning from these guys, they would come to my Camp and they’re like, “This is what you do about that. You’re going to take sticky tape and anything that’s got two bumps in, it means that you bought it on Friday, three bumps means you bought it months.” Things like that, learning all the tools that I’m going to need when the time comes so that I’m prepared, so that it’s not so scary anymore. It takes the scared right out of the unknown. Surrounding myself with people like that has been such a blessing, empowering and exciting. It makes me know that my life is not going to be any different than it is now.
I want to say that listening to you explain that makes me feel that although you have a different type of challenge, I’m not even calling it a disability, you and I are of the same. I’m not a professional football player, I never went pro or anything like that. I can’t play football anymore but I still play football. I just play it differently. I still score touchdowns. I’m still the running bat, I just run differently. The ball, for me, is a little bit different but I still have the responsibility to get it over the line, which is a different line but yet still I got to get it over the line, so I still play ball. I love what you’ve described here about doing the same thing, but doing it differently. In order to do that, we have to let go of the attachment we have with doing it a certain way, on life being a certain way and that’s a sense of control that we have to relinquish to the universe. Whenever you’re able to do that, it makes life a lot easier for you and that creates more opportunities. I wanted to comment on that because I felt that connection with you the fact that you create these systems for yourself and that’s what these things are, the systems.
That’s where the control comes in. When you start to feel like you’re losing control, find the thing that you can and latch onto that. The thing that I can control is learning as much as I can so that when that time comes, I’m prepared for it. That’s where suddenly you feel like things are being taken away from you. Find the one thing that isn’t or that you can wrap your head around like, “I can make this better.” One of the best classes I ever took was the Dale Carnegie Course. It’s The Power of Positive Thinking. One of the teachings is like, “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” Once you look at what the problem is, accept it that’s a problem, start going through the possible solutions, find a solution and commit to it. It sounds very cut and dry but that’s what it is. Let go of everything else and stop thinking that you’re losing control because you’re not. You’re taking control in a new area. You’re absolutely in control of it because everything that happens to you doesn’t happen. You control your response and how it affects you. If I get into a horrible car accident tomorrow and I have no health insurance, that really sucks. I’m going to make some phone calls, I’m going to find out what’s available to me and I’m going to improve upon my outcome.
It sounds like you’re not afraid of the process that you have to go through with any situation that may arise with you. That gives you a sense of freedom and liberation to live life on your terms like free. That is so freeing when you do that.
You don’t have to always like it. We’re not always going to like the solution. We don’t have to love that like, “I don’t love having to take the bus. Do I love having take the bus?” I miss driving my beautiful convertible. I’m in sunny San Diego. I want to drive around with the top down. I got a friend who’s got a convertible and I tell him on Sundays, “You’re driving my ass to the pool. I’m riding your convertible, so I don’t have to take the damn bus.” The other day I take the bus. I find a way to improve upon that sense of loss. That sucks that I can’t drive myself but let me make the best of what I have.
Amy, how can people connect with you?
I want to ask you, what is your thought about the word, disability?
I try to focus on the ability in disability. I don’t look at anybody as disabled. My former boyfriend was a wheelchair athlete from Canada. He was one of the fastest guys I’ve ever met in my life. To watch that guy go down an escalator on his wheelchair backwards, I was like, “It was terrifying. No wonder why you ended up in the chair.” I realized that there are many things that you can do differently. I don’t think of disabled as being less than. I think it is differently-abled. I do everything I did before except for drive a car. That is going to be possible in the next ten years. Differently-abled is how I prefer to think of as disabled.
What is your Game Changer Mentality message of the day, Amy?
Expect in life that setbacks and devastating things are going to happen to you. There is no way to prevent that and you have no control over it. You have to take charge of the situation, use that anxiety, terror, upset and anger as your superpower. You’re no longer a victim. You’re the superhero. You’re Wonder Woman and Superman, you’re going to take all that energy and kick those things’ ass. Pardon the language but it’s true. You’re going to use that to your advantage and you are absolutely going to come up out on top. It may not be in the way that you envisioned, it’s going to be even better, you’re not going to see that immediately but I promise you, you are going to improve upon your situation. There’s no way you’re ever going to be stuck. No one is stuck.
Amy, thank you for coming on the show. This has been a wonderful conversation. There are so much goodness and richness in this conversation for people. For those that have a disability in all facets of life, you are amazing. You are a gem and I’m grateful to you and for you. Thank you.
There you have it, another successful episode. There are many things to take away from this show. Wherever you are, whatever you may be going through, whatever you may be feeling right now, it’s okay. Let’s harness all of that energy and direct it towards something positive, life-changing and worth fighting for. That’s my takeaway. Until next time, dominate your game. Peace and love.
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About Amy Dixon
Amy Dixon is a blind professional athlete that has been racing on the US National Paratriathlon Team for three years and is currently ranked seventh in the World-International Triathlon Union (ITU) rankings. With her sighted race guide, Kirsten Sass, she has won eight gold medals, two national championships in both triathlon AND the sport of cycling and has no plans to stop there. If Amy maintains her Top-10 ranking and avoids injury, she will qualify for the 2020 Paralympic Games. Though her athletic accomplishments are impressive, what she’s done off the course may be even more remarkable. In 2015, she started a non-profit camp called “No Sight No Limits” which helps teach blind athletes how to race at all levels. The camp has produced two Paralympic hopefuls and has helped 30 blind athletes race around the globe. Amy regularly hosts running clinics where she teaches other women good running techniques and educates them on nutritional health. She also spends her time helping patients with eye disease through her non profit Glaucoma Eyes International, in the hopes of saving more people from devastating eye disease and vision loss.
Amy was diagnosed with a rare form of Uveitis, an inflammatory autoimmune eye disease at the age of 22 while attending Pharmacy School at the University of Connecticut. Being told she would likely lose her sight within a year, she changed gears and sorted out what she COULD do as a career, which was her current night job of working in the restaurant business as a Sommelier (a wine steward). Amy knew that even without sight, her palate and her nose would always keep a roof over her head and food on the table.
When it became unsafe for Amy to drive at night or see in dark bustling restaurants, she moved to retail wine, where she thrived for more than 15 wonderful years as her sight diminished. 11 years ago her disease came out of remission and she underwent extensive immunosuppressive therapy with steroids and chemotherapy. She had to stop driving and trade in her car for a cane and later, her first guide Dog, a Labrador named Elvis.
Elvis helped Amy through her years of medications and illness, until she could no longer work. She began having surgery to slow down her disease, rendering her unemployable due to hundreds of hours in hospital and at doctors. After gaining more than 70 pounds from the steroids, Amy found freedom at her local YMCA, starting with low- impact aqua fit classes with her friends from her Lions Club, then finally signing up for her first mile swim in more than 20 years. A former high school swimmer, she embraced the challenge and was hooked.
After losing more than 15 pounds in the water, Amy began indoor cycling at the YMCA spin classes. She wanted to run once half of the weight was gone and her knees no longer ached, so she tied herself to the treadmill with an elastic band so she wouldn’t fall due to her limited sight and began jogging. Through social media, someone suggested she try a triathlon, since she was already doing all three disciplines indoors.
Amy did her first triathlon in Sleepy Hollow NY 6 years ago and was hooked. Her time was fast enough to get on the radar of USA Triathlon for an Athlete Development Camp. She then received a scholarship to travel to Challenged Athletes Foundation in San Diego. She began with a wonderful coach, Ray Kelly and started her journey towards the Paralympics, making the National team three years ago, and working her way to number 2 in the world last season. Amy is the current National Champion in both Triathlon and Paracycling and isn’t stopping there. She hired Hall of Fame Coach Michellie Jones in 2019, and had one of her most successful seasons yet. At 8 gold Medals, a World Title and two National Titles, she isn’t stopping there.
Amy spends her non-training days helping newly blind patients or patients undergoing eye disease treatment to get the care and medicines and surgeries they require to live their fullest life and prevent further vision loss. She also runs Camp No Sight No Limits to train others with blindness to run bike and swim. In her ‘spare’ time she also has been training her Guide Dog Woodstock to compete in AKC Rally Obedience Trials and will soon become the first blind woman to earn a Master’s Title.
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