O’Rourke will trade his whistle for a bicycle to help the blind


As the sun hits him on the head and his muscles burn from the exertion, he’ll wonder how many miles he still has to travel to reach his goal of 112 (70 miles) a day. There will also be punctures, the weather playing tricks and an alarm clock that will ring at 4:30.

But it will all be worth it when he thinks about why he decided to take on this ordeal.

O’Rourke, who has been an NHL referee since 1999, will hop on his bike to ride Route 66 from Santa Monica, Calif., to Chicago starting July 27. He will have in mind the children of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Academy BELL (Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning), a summer program that aims to help children who are visually impaired learn Braille and other skills to help them live independent and confident lives.

« They sent me a little video of them sitting in front of center cheering me on, » O’Rourke said. I know there will be more difficult days during this adventure, but I can take inspiration from images like this and tell myself that I am capable of getting through my day. »

O’Rourke will be on his bike for 45 days. He will of course take a few breaks, including stops where parties will be held where he can meet his supporters. The expected date of his arrival in Chicago is September 8. The 50-year-old referee will share his journey through social media, raising money for the NFB https://nfb.org/route66 and a cause that has been close to his heart for a very long time.

O’Rourke’s father, Tom, and grandfather both lost their sight. Her father suffered from retinitis pigmentosa, a rare degenerative disease that affects the retina and leads to progressive and gradual loss of vision. The family also believe that his grandfather, whom O’Rourke never met, suffered from the same disease.

« One of the reasons I’m doing this is to raise money for kids so they can go to these camps to learn braille and learn about technologies that can help them achieve their life goals, » O’Rourke said. And what’s great is that these camps are run by blind people.

“Young people find themselves in groups with children who are like them, and they understand that they are not alone, that there are other people who can help them and who are going through the same ordeals as them. It’s something that’s really important to me. »

The organization is mainly run by blind people, and aims to enable blind people to reach their full potential through a support system.

“The majority of people with RP are legally blind by the time they reach their twenties,” the official explained. My father resisted for much longer than he thought. »

But that doesn’t mean he was ready to accept the situation.

For a long time, Tom O’Rourke preferred to act like he didn’t have the disease, even in his youth when he could sometimes have trouble spotting objects on the ground, like the root of a tree. The older he got, the more he lived in denial, which prevented him from taking initiatives that could have helped him in his daily life, such as using a cane or learning Braille.

But he never made excuses. He didn’t let his medical condition stop him from teaching his kids how to water ski or backflip on a trampoline.

He never hesitated.

“He never told my brother or me that he couldn’t do something because he couldn’t see. He was able to do it, O’Rourke said. It wasn’t always elegant. We were going to play golf and my dad would hit the ball with all his might before he looked at us and said, ‘Well, where did it go?’ »

Today, at the age of 75, Tom has almost no peripheral vision, but he can still play cards if he places them a few inches from his face and the room is well lit.

He also injured himself several times because he couldn’t see where he was going. His nose, orbital bone and a few ribs were all fractured.

« It’s his stubborn side, » O’Rourke pointed out.

The latter, a big fan of CrossFit, began his adventure with the goal of raising $50,000. The NFB told him to think bigger, since they estimate he could raise $250,000. He decided to take up the challenge.

Before even giving a first pedal stroke, O’Rourke has already amassed nearly $30,000.

To accompany him, O’Rourke will have his wife April and their dog Beiley by his side. They will follow the cyclist aboard a motorized vehicle in order to transport all the necessary equipment. O’Rourke should ride solo, unless joined by other cyclists, and maybe even a tandem bike with a blind person riding.

He chose July 27 for the start, the date on which his grandfather was born in 1891. He plans to cycle for three consecutive days before taking a few days off. Along the way, it will stop at six locations where the NFB has regional facilities.

If all goes as planned, his parents, Tom and Janis, will be waiting for him at the finish line on September 8. O’Rourke also underlined all that his mother had done for his father. “She has been his guide dog all her life! His son Austin, who is currently training to also become a referee, his daughter Gracie and friends will also be on hand.

It won’t be an easy task to pedal under the hot sun of the Southwest of the United States in the middle of summer. But he believes he can do it, because he’s as stubborn as his father.

« I realized I was able to do it because my dad passed on that stubborn side to us, » he said. Just because someone tells you it’s impossible doesn’t mean you have to accept it. »


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