Alabama Member Tests Endurance Limits
Jeff Henson, now Sergeant-at-Arms of the
Alabama Regional Group, was a trainee at the Southeastern Blind
Rehabilitation Center in Birmingham in late 2007 when he casually
mentioned to social worker Sonya Graham that he was interested in
attending the upcoming Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in
Snowmass Village, Colorado.
Hoping to capitalize on Jeff’s enthusiasm, Graham didn’t waste a moment in assuring Jeff’s participation at the clinic.
“Sonya literally made dozens of calls to help me get information and
funding,” he said. “I also received a lot of help and encouragement from
my instructors and VIST Coordinator.”
Arriving at the event, any trepidation
Jeff had previously felt soon left him. It was a definite turning
point. The Winter Sports Clinic proved to be a springboard to a
page-long list of athletic activities and competitive events in which
Jeff has participated during a period of less than three years.”
“After my first event, I was hooked,” he said. “I felt in my heart that I could compete with anyone on any level.”
Such confidence and motivation were
quite a reversal from where he was prior to his Winter Sports Clinic
experience and stint at the BRC.
“I had been active in athletic activities
all of my life,” he said, “but I stopped doing things after I lost my
vision because I did not know there were adaptive sports programs out
Participation in adaptive events gave
him the confidence to compete once again at age 50 against sighted
athletes in non-adaptive events.
Since the Winter Sports Clinic of
2008, Jeff’s activities include but are not limited to the 2008 Georgia
Golden Olympics, a regular sports event that led him to the National
Golden Olympics in San Francisco. He competed there in two events
against sighted athletes. Jeff also rode a tandem bicycle from Miami to
Key West, also in 2008, and participated in the San Diego Triathlon
Marathon. He also attended the VA Disabled Veterans Summer Sports Clinic
in San Diego and participated in State Games of the West that same
In 2009, Jeff was at the U.S.
Paralympic Camp in Newport, Rhode Island. He also snowboarded that same
year at the Sun Valley Adaptive Sports camp in Idaho and at the Stride
Adaptive Sports event in Massachusetts. He competed in the Marine Corps
Marathon and the Face of America Bike Ride in Washington, DC. Further,
Jeff cycled from New York City to the Hamptons and participated in
Operation Night Vision with the Lakeshore Foundation of Birmingham. He
also successfully completed the Rochester River Challenge in 2009.
Jeff Henson, right, is assisted in showing off strength by Army veteran Shawn Howard during the latter’s first tandem ride.
Despite a sore back that eventually
resulted in back surgery this past November, Jeff was not bored in 2010.
Among his activities throughout the year were the following: the Bataan
Death March Marathon in White Sands, New Mexico; kayaking in the U.S.
northwest; racing in the White Mountain Cycling Classic in New
Hampshire; and camping on an ice glacier in Alaska for eight days
learning winter survival skills as part of the Telluride Adaptive Sports
“My plans for 2011 depend on how well and
how fast I heal,” he said. Jeff began training in mid-January with hopes
for several tandem bike races, some skiing and snowboarding, and an
eventual bike ride across the country later in the year.
Even with all of the physical feats
and accomplishments, Jeff’s greatest satisfaction comes from encouraging
others to challenge and enjoy themselves in similar activities.
“The one thing I am most proud of is being
able to talk with students at Birmingham and get them involved in
competition so they can see that they can perform on a high level even
while blind,” he said. “As it was for me, most blinded veterans know
very little about what’s available to them in adaptive sports and in so
many other areas—things that can literally change a life and bring hope
to a person with vision loss.”
Jeff believes membership in BVA could
be still another key to helping veterans enlarge their vision and expand
“I am trying to recruit more visually impaired veterans to join BVA,” he said. “Once they’re involved, I have
an even greater opportunity and forum to encourage and share with them
what I’ve learned and gained.”
Bulletin Audiocassettes Soon To Be Obsolete
Hosts of organizations across the country,
including BVA, were surprised to learn in early autumn of last year that
new audiocassette tapes would very soon be a thing of the past.
There is currently a limited availability of 90- and 60-minute tapes.
In response, assuming a supply of one
or the other through June 2011, the Bulletin will be distributed in a
new format to be announced soon. The format will most likely include a
To read the current issue in its intended complete format, please use the print version or go to www.bva.org/bulletin.html.
2011-12 Scholarships Available For Blinded Vet Dependents
BVA will award six Kathern F. Gruber
scholarships for the 2011-12 academic year, according to Brigitte Jones,
BVA National Administrative Director. The six scholarships are valued
at $2,000 each.
The BVA Scholarship Committee will
also select three alternates in case any of the awards cannot be
accepted once they are determined.
Gruber scholarships are limited to
spouses and dependent children of blinded veterans but the blinded
veteran in question does not have to be a BVA member. Scholarships are
awarded on the basis of merit by the Committee.
The awards are for a single academic
year of study. However, recipients can reapply to receive them a second,
third, or fourth time.
Requests for scholarship applications
can be addressed to BVA National Headquarters, Attn: Kathern F. Gruber
Scholarship Program, 477 H Street NW, Washington, DC 20001. They can
also be addressed to Keleeba Scott at 202-371-8880. Information and applications are also located at www.bva.org/news/.
Completed applications must arrive at BVA National Headquarters no later than Friday, April 15, 2011.
Funds To Be Awarded by National Auxiliary
The Blinded Veterans Association Auxiliary
(BVAA) will award two Renee Feldman scholarships worth $2,000 and one
worth $1,000 for the 2011-12 academic year. As was the case with the
Gruber awards, the Feldman scholarships are open to the spouses and
children of blinded veterans and membership in BVA is not required.
To be eligible for a Feldman
scholarship, the applicant must have been accepted at the school of
his/her choice. The institution in question may be a vocational school,
community college, four-year college, or university.
The fees in all cases are paid directly to the school and are
intended to defray the cost of tuition, books, and general fees.
The application process for the
scholarships includes supplying information about previous academic
achievement, a statement of present goals and plans, a 300-word essay,
and letters of reference. Completed application packets must be received
no later than Saturday, April 30, 2011.
For further information and an
application, contact Hazel Compton, BVAA Scholarship Chair, P.O. Box
267, Richlands, VA 24641, or by telephone at 276-963-3745. The materials
are also available at www.bvaaux.org or www.margbva.org.
New Jersey Legislature Honors Frank Merendino
Francis A. “Frank” Merendino, New Jersey
Regional Group, received the Donald Sykes Award from the John D. Young
Memorial Lions Blind Center on October 21. The award was presented at
the Atlantic County’s 22nd Annual Donald J. Sykes Award Ceremony at the
May’s Landing, New Jersey Country Club.
The citation was based on Frank’s
“fine example of a person with a disability who goes forward living an
independent life, making a significant contribution to the community.”
Frank has been a contributing Lion at
the Young Blind Center for more than ten years. He belongs to the
Absecon, New Jersey, Lions Club and the Absecon Visionary Lions Club.
“No one ever asks Frank to help without
receiving his help in abundance,” said Jack Sutcliffe, Administrator of
the Blind Center. Sutcliffe wrote the award nomination on Frank’s
Because of the honor, Frank was also
recognized soon after by both the New Jersey State Assembly and the U.S.
Congress. Assemblymen John Amodeo and Vincent Polistina drafted a joint
assembly commendation on his behalf, saluting him as “an individual of
remarkable character and exceptional determination who enriches the
lives of others while demonstrating the true spirit of the Sykes Award.”
Frank also received a Certificate of
Special Congressional Recognition from his own Congressman,
Representative Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ-2).
Stalwart Connecticut Veterans Forge Hartford Parade
Brian Sullivan, Connecticut Regional Group, pictured at left with Austin Grimshaw prior to Hartford Veterans Day Parade November 7.
Five members of the Connecticut Regional Group
and 10 trainees from the Eastern Blind Rehabilitation Center in West
Haven braved a chilly Sunday afternoon recently to pay tribute to the
The entourage together walked or rode
the 1.25-mile Hartford Veterans Day Parade route, which ran through the
downtown area of the city.
Now an annual activity for the regional group, the parade walkers included 91-year-old Conrad Simard
from Nashua, New Hampshire. Conrad took the time out of his schedule at
the blind center to do the entire route on foot. Joining him were
Director of District 1 and Connecticut Regional Group member David
VanLoan; Austin Grimshaw, David’s 11-year-old grandson; Charles Grammer,
president of the White River Junction Vermont Regional Group; Douglas
Reid, treasurer of the Connecticut Regional Group; and Brian Sullivan,
Connecticut Regional Group member.
The Hartford event was recognized this
year by the VA Veterans Day National Committee as one of the nation’s
official 2010 Veterans Day regional sites. It is the largest Veterans
Day parade in New England and one of the largest in the country with
some 4,000 participants.
The group was identified by a cloth
banner carried by the lead walkers. The parade step-off occurred at 1
p.m. followed by a moment of silence exactly one hour later.
British OPS Alum Shares
Story on Facebook
Craig Lundberg, one of BVA’s three Operation
Peer Support participants from across the ocean, has posted a link to a
news segment aired about him last year on British television. The link
is located on BVA’s Facebook page.
British Operation Peer Support participant Craig Lundberg at BVA 63rd National Convention in Phoenix.
The inspirational segment lasts
approximately three and half minutes and provides a brief overview of
his military service, injury, and recovery. To proceed directly to the
video, visit http://media.causes.com/426299.
BVA Bulletin Now Distributed by Email
BVA members and other Bulletin readers may
now receive each issue of the publication via email. A PDF version will
present the issue exactly as it is mailed out but with the additional
feature of color photos and graphics. A text version in the form of a
Windows 2003 or 2007 Word file will not include the photos themselves
but photo descriptions and captions identical to those provided in the
issue’s recorded version.
The full text and art contained in
every Bulletin issue will continue to appear first on the BVA website’s
Bulletin page, www.bva.org/bulletin.html approximately one week before
the print and audio versions are mailed.
To begin receiving the Bulletin by email, readers should contact Stuart Nelson at 202-371-8880, Ext. 3316 or at email@example.com.
They must provide their name and then specify whether their preference
is PDF or text.
They should also indicate whether they wish to
discontinue receiving either the print or audio version, or both.
Johnson Accepts Triathlon Challenge
BVA member Sean Johnson of Aberdeen, South
Dakota, an Operation Peer Support participant at the past two national
conventions, has been invited by the U.S. Olympic Organization to try
out for the U.S. Paralympic Team for tandem cycling.
As part of Sean’s training for the tryouts, he has also agreed to train for a triathlon if chosen for the Paralympic team.
Sean’s recently increased interest in athletic challenge began at a
U.S. Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) Sports camp in Colorado
Springs last July, where he met trainer Jeffrey Tracey. The two rode a
tandem bicycle together for a couple of days and decided to enter the
Rocky Mountain States Games held a few weeks later. Unexpectedly, they
won the Gold Medal for the Paralympic portion of the race, resulting in a
new wave of attention for Sean, including a late November report on
Training for a triathlon is something Sean
never would have dreamed about, even a few months ago, given his
Traumatic Brain Injury and blindness,” the report stated. “Needless to
say, his life has changed with the introduction of sports and the hope
it provides to live a normal life again.”
California Ironman Raises Personal Bar
Richard Hunter, Northern California
Regional Group, has become only the third visually impaired triathlete
in all of North America to break five hours in a 70.3 Ironman event.His
official time was four hours, 49 minutes, and 42 seconds.
Richard’s success has led him to the
next step, which is registration for his first full Ironman. It will
take place later this year in November at Ford Ironman, Florida. The
event will consist of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a
26.2-mile run, a feat perhaps no other blinded veteran has ever
“I’ve now guaranteed myself the longest day of my life by registering for the full Ironman!” he joked.
Richard also said he was humbled and
overwhelmed by the reception he received last year from older veterans
with whom he shared his sports stories at the Augusta BRC. “They
actually took pride in my first participation in the Augusta half
Ironman event in 2009 and told me to continue to serve as an example and
resource to fellow visually impaired endurance athletes.
“I know some of our blinded veterans have a
goal to participate in a full Ironman event, but I am not sure that any
have actually done it yet,” he said. “Sports have proven to be a great
way to engage them in the rehabilitation process.”
Radio Release Highlights BVA Field Service Program
A 60-second radio spot distributed
nationally in early February by North American Precis Syndicate, Inc.
briefly describes the work of BVA’s Field Service Representatives and
how they assist other blinded veterans.
The lead sentence of the spot states
that hope exists for blinded veterans and those who care about them
because of an organization committed to helping the veterans obtain the
services they deserve. The release then refers to the efforts of Region I
Field Rep Ed Eckroth in helping BVA member Tom Bove of Farmingdale, New
York (New York Regional Group), recover funds that had been mistakenly
withheld from his VA pension. Ed uncovered the error and took the
necessary steps to get the payments restored.
The release went on to explain that Ed is one of seven BVA representatives who live and work in separate
regions throughout the United States. As blinded veterans themselves,
the reps assist with claims and also serve as role models, helping their
fellow veterans along the road to independence.
“The Field Service Program is one of several
initiatives and services bringing hope to veterans with vision loss,
regardless of whether they are members of the organization,” the release
Hawaii Vet and Spouse
Offer Burst of Enthusiasm
Clayton Punihaole, an Air Force blinded
veteran of the Vietnam era from the Big Island of Hawaii, is a farmer of
both vegetables and coffee. He recently discovered and joined BVA as a
Clayton was featured last November 8
on the front page of West Hawaii Today, the local area’s daily newspaper
in and around Kona, for his extraordinary proficiency, although blind,
in navigating coffee trees and picking vegetables. The article described
his system of running a rope parallel to his house on the southernmost
part of his field. To this rope he attaches ropes running laterally in
rows, two at a time.
Clayton and his wife, Pamela,
contacted BVA National Headquarters in late December to report their
participation in a White Cane Safety Awareness Walk in Kona, inquiring
at the same time about educational and awareness materials for
distribution at their next walk. They also expressed both optimism and
hope about their role in a possible reinvigoration of the Hawaii
Regional Group in the near future.