Maria Johnson and a friend riding a tandem bicycle

I used to work out constantly! I was teaching 8-10 group fitness classes a week, running a boot camp, and working out at home. I was in the best shape of my life! I worked hard and I played hard! Then, I started to lose my vision and my life got really hard.

I gave up teaching some classes, boot camp was too hard to manage, and I rarely worked out at home. I reverted back to old eating habits because it was easy and I didn’t care. Eating is what I did between bouts of crying and wondering “Why me? How the hell am I going to live this way?”. I started to slowly gain weight. I was going blind… with no treatment or cure. Nobody, I mean, NOBODY would blame me for gaining a few pounds!! Right?!? Oh, I can justify anything! Well, those few pounds turned into a few more pounds as I struggled to find ways to cope with my vision loss. I was less active, I ate more, and here I sit today, 20 pity party pounds heavier. Geez, 20 pounds! What in the WHAT? I guess I can’t blame the dryer for shrinking my clothes! UGH!!

Anyway… enough about the extra junk in my trunk. Let’s move on. These days, I’m still teaching a few weekly classes, but, I need more exercise to get my physical health, my big butt, back under control! I’ve spent too many years overweight in the past, AND I can’t let these uncontained curves add to the challenges I already have. What’s a blind girl to DO??

I heard about an organization called the “Blind Stokers Club” (BSC) in the city where I live. What is a stoker? Stay put, I’ll get to that! The club helps blind and visually impaired folks ride a bike with the use of tandem bicycles. Hmm… was it for me? Would I like it? Could I physically handle it? Okay… why not? I decided to try it! You know what they say…”You’ll never know, until you try!”

I tried it, AND I LOVED IT! I am now a stoker in the club! I was matched up with Bradley who is an amazing captain! He has years of experience as a cyclist and I was confident he knew what he was doing right from the start! We are both pretty outgoing and slightly competitive. Actually, he is super competitive and pushes me just enough to see what I am made of. He has tons of confidence in me and I have tons of trust in him. But, I truly believe that the biggest reason we were matched up, is that he is just as much of a coffee addict as I am!! BONUS!! Many of our future training rides will undoubtedly involve a stop at a unique coffee house to “refuel”!!

I’ve had people ask me what a “Captain” and a “Stoker” does as a team. I’ll tell you what I know at this point in my cycling career! The captain sits on the front of the bike and the stoker sits on the back. If you are going to captain, you have to be conscientious and hyper aware about the terrain ahead.

The stoker has no control…gasp!….over the gears, braking, or steering so he or she relies on the choices made by the captain. The stoker really has to trust the person captaining the bike, and the captain has to rely on a stoker who is steady and responsive to what the captain says and does.

The captain communicates to the stoker what speed/power is needed or not needed and what’s coming up ahead. Bumps, stops, turns, cars, etc. need to be verbalized to the stoker. Sometimes the stoker has to shut UP if the captain needs to communicate something important. THAT’S never happened to me! Ha ha! Hey..I can shut up if it’s a life or death situation!! After a while, I suspect that some of the verbal cues may fade over time as the riders become a true team. Lastly, compatibility on a tandem bike is key! Bradley hasn’t kicked me off the bike as of yet and I haven’t felt the need to exchange him for a new captain!! So far so good!

I’m looking forward to riding many more miles with my captain. So here’s to losing weight, gaining cycling friends, and experiencing new adventures. I’m realizing more and more that I have to create my own opportunities to experience how to do things differently in my Lebers hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON) unexpected blind life.

My name is Maria. I am a mom, group fitness instructor, blind advocate, podcaster, and blogger. In 2013, I became legally blind (at the age of 50), from a rare hereditary disease called Lebers hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON). I write about my experiences living my unexpected blind life at: www.girlgoneblind.com.

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