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Greenfield resident overcomes blindness to keep competing

Meyers thrives in the challenges placed in front of him

April 9, 2013

An indomitable spirit and an unquenchable desire to stay active are enabling Kevin Meyers of Greenfield to survive - and thrive - in the face of some major physical setbacks.

Meyers, 51, was blinded in a speedboat crash in 1987 and broke an ankle while skiing with a guide in 2008. But on both occasions, he refused to sink into despair or wallow in self-pity. Instead, he bounced back stronger than ever.

After the boat crash, Meyers rallied himself by taking computer classes and eventually getting a four-year degree, then securing jobs at Metavante and later Northwestern Mutual.

In 2008, after the skiing accident, he once again rebounded, becoming involved with tandem-bicycle racing and claiming a national championship last year.

Just recently, reinforcing his desire to keep pushing himself with new challenges, he took part in the 2013 Fight For Air Climb sponsored by the American Lung Association at the US Bank Center in downtown Milwaukee.

He ascended the 47 flights of stairs in just 7 minutes, 19 seconds for ninth place of 2,575 participants.

Stays in motion

"I have a strong internal drive," Meyers said. "I cannot just sit around doing nothing. I have to keep myself moving."

Bob Springer, who piloted Meyers on the championship tandem bicycle ride, echoed that thought.

"He didn't let his blindness stop him; he doesn't let anything stop him," Springer said. "That's just in his nature. He doesn't do anything halfway."

His mother Gretchen said Kevin has always possessed a competitive spirit.

"Before losing his sight, he really enjoyed boat racing," she said. "He would work with his hands, putting motors together and taking them apart."

In 1987, Meyers was competing in a boat race on the Fox River when his life changed.

He was piloting a boat at about 50 to 60 miles per hour when a pleasure boat ventured too close to the course. The boat swung away but a skier being towed behind it slipped and fell into the water.

"The boat stopped to pick up the skier but left a wake near a turn on the course," Meyers recalled. "My boat was going into the turn, hit the wake and popped up and down three times.

"The fourth time, it nose-dived into the water, and I rolled out over the front of my boat and into the water. The next racing boat came along, and I was in its path. The front of the boat hit me across the bridge of my nose, knocking my helmet off."

Meyers does not remember what happened next, but others later filled in the horrific details.

"My left eyeball was hanging out onto my cheek, held only by the optic nerve," he said. "Also, my right eyeball was severed."

Loses his sight

He spent a week at St. Vincent's Hospital in Green Bay, then went to St. Mary's in Milwaukee. Doctors cut off his left eyeball, but he still held out hope that he might retain some vision from the right eye.

He visited a series of doctors, but they all told him they could not save the eyeball. Finally, he came to a fourth one at the Wisconsin Eye Institute, which conducted some tests.

"I was confident he could fix it," Meyers said, "and when he came in with the results, I had a grin on my face. The doctor took a long time to get the words out of his mouth, but I could tell it was not going to happen.

"It hit me that I would never see again."

Meyers realized he could not continue his career as an appliance repair technician and decided to take computer classes at Milwaukee Area Technical College. He later earned a four-year degree in computer science in May 1995 from the Milwaukee School of Engineering.

"He was always a hard worker," Gretchen said, "and he was so focused in his schooling. His books were transcribed for him, and he assimilated the information."

He went to work for Metavante for seven years, then left that job and became an application analyst at Northwestern Mutual in 2001.

Skiing accident

In 2008, though, his life took another turn.

"I had worked on a major project for 10, 12 hours a day and was kind of in a slump (mentally)," he said. "I wanted to try something new."

He chose downhill skiing at Alpine Valley.

"It was the last run of the day, and I had switched guides with another person," Meyers said. "We were at the top of the hill and after a few turns, my guide told me to make a left turn, but the snow was too deep and I couldn't turn.

"I ran right into a post, with one ski going to the left of it and the other to the right. The left ankle twisted hard."

Meyers broke his left ankle and now had to get around with two crutches and a cane.

"It was tough to keep up my spirits," he said, "but my mom and sisters (Kathy, Pam and Amy) were a big help. My family was always there for me. Without them, I don't know how I could have done it."

One day, while on the Internet, he learned about the United States Association of Blind Athletes and found out about a development camp for tandem bike racing.

"The thought of the camp actually gave me more drive to get my ankle healed," he said. "Once the doctor said I could pedal a bike, I was on a stationary bike with a boot cast.

"I was determined to make that camp," Meyers said. "I heard the word 'racing' and said, 'Man, I love that.' "

Meyers was accepted into the camp at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado and worked with his first pilot, Mike Willman.

"The pilot is in front and drives the bike," he explained. "I sit on the back and act as the 'stoker.' My job is to pedal, pedal, pedal."

Racing on the track in the camp rekindled his enthusiasm for competing, and soon he was running in major meets.

Wins national crown

In 2012, Meyers and Springer were competing in both road and track bike racing.

They went to the national track championship in September in California, and the race for the title went down to the final event.

"We had lost in the second (of three) races, a 4-K pursuit," he said, "and we had one left, the 'kilo,' a 1,000-meter race. We decided to crank it and give it everything we had."

Normally in the races, there is only one bike on the course at a particular time, and the finishing times are later compared. This time, though, Meyers and Springer were actually racing at the same time as their closest competitors and prevailed by .35 seconds.

"When we got to the end, Bob said, 'We won!' " Meyers recalled. "I asked how, because I thought the other team still had to run."

Springer said, "He was surprised. At first, he thought I was kidding. I said, 'Dude, we've got it.' He was just thrilled."

Climbs 47 flights

Last month, the ever-active Meyers engaged in yet another challenge, the stair climb at the US Bank Center. He covered the 47 floors without any guidance, just using the other senses that he has honed so well.

Meyers has gone through two major accidents that probably would have sidelined most people, but his spirit and his intense desire for activity have kept him not only in competition, but on top of the competition.

THE MEYERS FILE

WHO: Kevin Meyers of Greenfield, 51 years old

SCHOOLING: He graduated from Greendale High School in 1980, then earned a two-year degree in heating and ventilation from the Milwaukee Area Technical College in 1982. He later earned a four-year degree in computer science from the Milwaukee School of Engineering

ACTIVITIES: powerboat racing until accident, then tandem-bicycle racing and a game called 'goalball," which is played on a basketball court. Sighted participants wear blindfolds so no one can see. The object is to get a ball, which contains bells so it can be followed, past three defenders to score points

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