TGIF: Heather McDaniel

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TGIF:

This Goal Is Finished

Good morning achievers! Hope you’ve had a wonderful week!

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The Achiever

Today’s TGIF achiever is Heather McDaniel. Heather first crossed my path, quite literally, a few weeks ago (this is Matt). While visiting good friends, Jim and Amy, I saw Heather running down the street. But there was something quite unique about this runner (read more below). The unique thing that attracted me to Heather in first place turns out to be only one very unique thing about her.

After leaving Jim and Amy’s place, I couldn’t stop thinking about the runner that I saw. I asked my friends for help – if they saw this runner again I needed them to stop her and get her phone number. I needed to speak with her.

A couple of weeks later, I sat down with Heather at a Starbucks in Arlington and interviewed her. It was an honor and a privilege to spend time with this persistent woman and find out a little more about what motivates her. I hope you learn as much from Heather as I did!

My name is Heather McDaniel and I’m a 45 year old, very determined, very active woman living in Arlington, VA. I have a beautiful daughter and grandson in the area that I enjoy spending time with.

I am also visually impaired. There are many different levels of visual impairment, or legal blindness. My visual impairment includes total blindness in my left eye, and vision in my right eye of 20/2400. What this means is that the smallest letter I can see at 20 feet, could be seen by a normal eye at 2,400 feet. I was born with congenital glaucoma which was mostly under control until things got much worse in my early 30’s, resulting in 23 eye surgeries and much of my vision loss.

But as you can see below, I don’t let that hold me back from living an active lifestyle!

The Goal

My goal was to continue to stay physically active by running despite my visual impairment. For me, this means going for a run 5-6 times per week, at distances of 4-6 miles.

Why This Goal?

Running was always important to me. Even at a young age, I loved to run. I’ve run off and on for over 30 years, and I don’t ever want to stop.

I also want to show the world that just because you have an impairment, it doesn’t mean you have to slow down in life. I’ve heard so many people say (or yell out to me on the street), “don’t run, walk!” From the first time I heard that until now, I feel very strongly about proving others wrong about my ability. I don’t want the world to tell me what to do.

Maybe I’m a bit eccentric…J

The First Step

When my vision got significantly worse in my early 30’s, I desperately wanted to stay active. I began to do Thai Chi. This really helped me get through the hard times and relieve the stress related to being disabled.

In fact, Thai Chi also helped me get through the pain. I was experiencing very severe pain during and after all of my eye surgeries – it felt like someone was constantly punching me in the face. I didn’t want to over-medicate and use steroids too much for my pain, so staying active and increasing my intensity over time was an important step in getting started. When I think back on staying active in the beginning, I realize that I needed that SO much.

Challenges

As you can imagine, I’ve had my fair share of obstacles. Sometimes roads have unexpected bumps and cracks in them, or cars are parked in interesting places. I would have to find new routes, or ask for directions.

Aside from these physical challenges, I lot of people tell me I can’t or shouldn’t run. They tell me to slow down or to walk. They say that I’m going to lose the rest of my sight if I run. They say that I’m too thin and should slow down. Because I now run with a cane, people feel the need to help me.

In fact, one day after running in Arlington, VA, a woman stopped me at the bus station. She wanted to pray for me right then and there. She wanted to put her hands on my eyes and pray for a miracle. I said, “look, I’ve had to accept my disability and persevere in spite of it. My sight is gone and that’s a fact. But you can pray that the carbohydrates don’t go to my hips.” I didn’t mean to be rude, but I’ve learned to live with who I am. I’m visually impaired. It is what it is. She was as lost as I would be in a jazzercise class.

I don’t like when people try to stop me from running. I don’t need to be protected. People’s intentions are good but they need to be educated.

Running with a cane is an indirect way of educating people. I find that 95% of people are impressed and just want to ask questions, but the others just don’t understand a thing about visual impairment. Running is my little way of providing the public with sensitivity training.

Nature has given me physicality and so I want to use it. It feels good to inspire people and to show them that they don’t need to let anything hold them back.

Staying Motivated

At first, I exercised a lot in my room w/ hand weights and body bands. After awhile, though, that’ll make you claustrophobic. So, I joined the YMCA which got me out of the house. That kept me motivated to keep going because it was a new challenge. At the YMCA, I helped with an exercise class called Silver Sneakers for older adults and people with all sorts of impairments and disabilities. That was good for me to be involved in and kept me going.

Just like for any athlete, making progress in your physical achievements is a great motivation. In my neighborhood, I used to walk down steeper hills because it’s not safe to charge into something that is unfamiliar to you. After walking down the hills a few times, I started to pick up some visual cues. Then I started focusing on tactile cues – things I could feel through my feet and legs. Then I got used to what it feels like to run downhill. Now I can run down familiar hills just like anyone else!

Who Helped?

There have been a lot of great people that influenced me and kept me going. My father, Jim McDaniel, has been a great support for me. He is one of the most determined people I know. When I was young, he would call me Tiger, because I was so driven like him. My daughter is the same way – I am very proud of her. My late Grandmother, Ethel McDaniel, was also a great inspiration to me. I guess it runs in the family!

The ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia (ECNV) is a great resource. It’s called “ENDependence” because they help end dependence of people with disabilities to create more independence within society. They helped me obtain housing recently in an environment that allows me to be much more active. They also provide peer counseling and other resources.

A local component of ADA provides complementary paratransit service for the DC Metro area by way of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). This local affiliate helped me gain more access to public transportation. They also provided me access to a Travel Training Instructor who has been very helpful in ensuring that I can safely use public transportation to stay active.

TGIF – Celebrate!

Occasionally I’ll treat myself to some new fitness clothes because if feels good to be in shape and healthy. But really, what I love to do when I keep getting out there and achieving my physical goals is to celebrate by helping others. Not only do I enjoy helping others with disabilities stay active, but I’ll make sure my daughter and grandson have everything they need – like school supplies, toys, or just some shopping money. If feels good to be healthy and fit, but it feels great to give to others!

Advice

Well, first of all, it’s definitely important to see your doctor, get a physical, and make sure you are in a position to be active.

Also, whatever piece of mobility equipment you need – such as a cane or sunglasses, or special shoes – take it along with you. Don’t be afraid, shy, or intimated by using these tools, especially if it’s going to keep you safe and healthy.

One day, a bunch of construction guys gave me one of their brightly colored vests with reflectors on it. I was a little hesitant to accept it and use it at first, but then I realized that it’s really helping to protect me and keep me safe. Whatever it is, take it with you. Don’t worry about how you’ll look or what people will think of you.

Remember, you only live once. Why sit back? You’re the only one that’s going to take you from point A to point B. I feel empowered now by using public transportation. Same goes for running.

Whatever your goal is, do it for yourself.

What’s Next?

My next goal is to find employment. I’m currently job hunting right now. This goal is really important to me because no one wants to spend their life just taking benefits from others without trying to provide for themselves. I mean, there are resources out there to assist me and I appreciate and use them when I need them, but I don’t want to depend on those resources for my entire living. It feels good to work hard and provide for yourself.

Included in this goal is getting re-certified as a personal trainer. That would provide me a great sense of pride and allow me to do something that both earns money and keeps me active.

And finally, I’ve only lived in my current house for 9 weeks, so I want to continue to get settled and learn the area. There is so much to learn about where to go, how to get around, and all of the new people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet.


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