Bruchok has had more than 13 eye surgeries addressing her frequently detached retinas and she suffers from nystagmus, which causes uncontrollable shaking of her eyes, severe nearsightedness and myopia. Chaw, on the other hand, suffers from a hereditary condition known as Retinitis Pigmentosa, causing the photoreceptors in his eyes to shrink and bringing about extreme tunnel vision and night blindness.
“I am not sure if it adds up to full vision,” Bruchok said Tuesday morning. “I do have some peripheral vision in my left eye so when we are riding the bicycle he sits in the front and he can see down the road what is directly in front of him, and I am literally the back-seat driver, who is welcome to give information, especially if there is traffic merging or approaching. To the best of my ability I have no depth perception because I only have one eye.”
The team of Bruchok and Chaw flew to the southern tip of South America in December 2011 and began their estimated 18-month journey north hoping to personally challenge themselves and spread awareness of the capabilities of the visually impaired. The couple, who have dubbed their quest Two Blind to Ride, arrived in northern Nevada on Sunday and spoke to the Sparks Greenbrae Lions Club Tuesday morning where they shared tales from the road and addressed the importance of setting steep goals.
“We figured it is not every day that two blind people jump on a bike and ride across the country so why not raise awareness about the abilities of visually impaired people,” Bruchok said. “It is really important for us to go and speak to those people who are visually impaired and living with it, but it is just as important to educate people who can see because a lot of people think blindness is just one thing and that you can't see anything. And they think because you can’t see anything means you can’t do anything.”
Both riders completed undergraduate degrees on the East Coast before moving on to their graduate studies in Arizona. Both have extensive hiking backgrounds, including hikes on Mt. Whitney and Mt. Everest Base Camp, and have traveled to parts of Asia and Europe prior to their tandem bike journey.
“I always feel that my vision is more of a challenge and not an obstacle,” Chaw said. “It is something that is frustrating but, at the same time, you find your way around it. For the last 15 months it has been amazing. We have had no dangers, no threats safety wise. And actually when people find out that we are visually impaired, they are much more open and they invite us into their homes more.”
Upon hearing about the Two Blind to Ride duo inhabiting northern Nevada for a few days, Sparks Greenbrae Lions Club members jumped at the chance to have them speak at their weekly meeting. Because the focus of the Lions Club, and all Lions Club International affiliates, is educating and advocating for the visually impaired, the club was honored and humbled by Bruchok and Chaw’s presence.
“Lions have always been about eyesight — saving, protecting and educating all over the world. That is what we do,” Suraj Zutshi, public affairs officer for Sparks Greenbrae Lions, said. “A lot of us wear glasses, including myself, and we start thinking that sometimes we complain. We have nothing to complain about. What these people are doing and what they have shown us they can do is remarkable. A dynamic duo is what I would call them and I think the club reaction was fantastic.”
Throughout their trek, the Two Blind to Ride team has stopped at several schools for the blind to inspire and educate children and adults living with eyesight impairments. For them, finding the will to survive a 16,000-mile bike ride is a matter of ‘how,’ not ‘if.’
“It (blindness) definitely changes things, but it is not impossible. You just have to think about how you are going to do it and not so much if you can do it,” Bruchok said. “I think for anybody you are your own biggest barrier, and it can get anybody down. For anyone to push their limits you need to keep trying. If you have some sort of impairment, you are so used to being told ‘you can’t do that because you can’t see’ and you are possibly going to give up more easily because you believe those false tales.
“We believe that any person can do anything. We hear people say ‘I wish I could do that.’ Well, you can. You just have to plan out the steps first. Anything that you want to do is figuring out what would be the first step to doing that and then taking that step and seeing how you are going to make a path to where you are going.”
The two bikers have formed an elite partnership during their 15-month tenure on the road. Both agree that the time spent learning more about what each of them is capable of, has been life changing. From Nevada, the team will head north to Bend, Ore. and will make stops in cities such as Portland, Ore., Vancouver, Canada and Fairbanks, Ala. to name a few.
“It is really interesting because I am in the front and I steer so you would think that I am the more dominant person visually, but off the bike when we walk in and out of places I am following her,” Chaw said. “It’s really a balance. She is more dominant in certain aspects and I am more dominant in other aspects and we balance it out.”
You can contact and follow Bruchok and Chaw as they round up their quest at twoblindtoride.org.