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Blind to the Challenge
November 3, 2014 | Laura Putre; excerpted from Thrivent magazine
Letting faith in God take over
Thrivent member Richard Hunter has needed to figure out what's important to him at several points in his life. In 1989, he was living his dream of being a Marine. He had just graduated from Oregon State University with a bachelor's degree in psychology and was stationed in Quantico, Virginia, as a second lieutenant. He was training to be a motor transport operator, but five months into active duty, he recalls, "the roller coaster started."
During a routine vision exam, a doctor saw an abnormality in his eye. After a series of tests, Hunter was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that eventually leads to blindness. The Marines told him he would have to be medically discharged.
"It was a traumatic time," recalls Hunter. "I didn't have a plan B. I wasn't sure where I should move. I knew I didn't want to go back to the small town where I grew up. I distinctly remember being very anxious and pacing around."
Hunter decided to step back and let his faith in God take over. "That calming presence was definitely something I needed," he says.
He headed to California to be near his girlfriend, Heidi, who was finishing up school, and found a job working with emotionally disturbed children in a group home. He married Heidi, earned a master's degree, and spent 10 productive years as a school psychologist.
But in 2004, his condition began to affect his central vision to the point that he couldn't see the students he was observing in the classroom during diagnostic tests for disabilities. "It was the second time I had a dramatic change in direction in my life, where I had to stop doing something that I really liked and found rewarding," remembers Hunter.
He threw himself into volunteerism, chairing the advisory committee for the local Society for the Blind and completing the required 50 hours of education to become a Stephen Minister at his church. (Stephen Ministers are laypeople trained to help church members in crisis by listening to and supporting them in caring ways. Their work typically supplements that of the pastor's in the congregation.)
Hunter also trained for and finished the Boston Marathon in 2007. When running started to take a toll on his middle-aged body, he turned to cross-training and began swimming and cycling as well. With the help of a sighted trainer who Hunter believes he found through divine intervention, Hunter competed in an Ironman triathlon in Augusta, Georgia. That race led to other opportunities, including chairing a committee for the C-Different Foundation, which helps visually impaired athletes, and organizing a race for blind veterans.
"I've constantly looked for blessings in my situation," says Hunter, who completed a Florida Ironman in November 2011, swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles and running 26.2 miles in less than 12 hours – becoming only the second visually impaired athlete to finish a full Ironman in that time frame. "To this date, I haven't gotten angry."
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