I’ve never believed in allowing my disability to define who I am as a person. From the moment I was born, I’ve lived my life not knowing what the people and things that surround me look like. I am blind. What some consider a curse, I consider to be a blessing, because my disability has given me the ability to perceive and experience life in ways that those born with the ability to see cannot. Being blind is all I’ve ever known, so I’ve only had but one choice in life: adapt or fail to survive.
I’ll never go so far as to say that living without the ability to see has been easy. But life itself isn’t easy, for either sighted or non-sighted people. Life has been a struggle, but through adversity and struggle, passion emerges. My two passions in life are the law and athletics. As a disability rights attorney, I have dedicated my life to representing people with disabilities who otherwise don’t have the means and resources necessary to have their voice heard. My other passion is my love for athletic competition. I have been blessed to complete 17 marathons and the full Iron Man triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, 26.2 mile run, completed consecutively, without break). My passion for athletics is insatiable.
Yet it wasn’t until this past summer that I came to realize how fragile life can be. One Monday morning in August, I was training for my eighteenth marathon in my favorite place to train: Central Park. While in the pedestrian lane, I was suddenly struck from behind by what I later came to find out was a bicycle that, according to the police report, was traveling at a speed in excess of 30 miles per hour downhill. I was rushed to the trauma center at nearby Mount Sinai Hospital where it was determined that I had suffered a shattered pelvis and hip. Once an Iron Man, I suddenly felt bound by the “iron walls” of the hospital room where I spent over the weeks recovering.
As I began my recovery at Mount Sinai Hospital during the first day I was there, I remember feeling helpless for the first time in my life. Overcoming my inability to see was a struggle that I had spent my entire life learning to deal with, but in the single moment of time that I was struck by the cyclist in Central Park, I was stripped of my independence and thus my life as I knew it. I no longer could eat, bathe, go to the bathroom, or change without the help of staff at Mount Sinai Hospital. It was at this time that Hashem came to my aid.
If not for the incredible support and outpouring of love from the Jewish community of Manhattan, and the unceasing care and concern of the nurses, doctors and staff of Mount Sinai Hospital, I would not have recovered the way I did. Every single day, for ten weeks, visitors streamed into my hospital room to share prayers and encouraging words. I celebrated Shabbos every week. I fight with chronic pain every day, and my journey to a full recovery has only just begun, but I have made tremendous progress thanks to my community, caregivers and the guiding hand of Hashem. I will push forward every day until I am fully recovered, upon which I will cross the finish line and complete the 2013 ING New York City Marathon.
Richard Bernstein is an American lawyer, practicing at The Law Offices of Sam Bernstein. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Michigan. He has been classified as legally blind since birth due to retinitis pigmentosa. Bernstein received his juris doctorate degree from Northwestern University School of Law in 1999. Licensed to practice in Michigan and New York, much of his work has focused on protecting the rights of people with disabilities.