When Artie Elefant started bumping into objects around his home, he just thought he was being clumsy. It wasn't until he received a retinal exam that he found out he wasn't simply uncoordinated; he had retinitis pigmentosa (RP).
Artie, who was 47-years-old at the time of his diagnosis, was shocked. "I had to change my whole life around," he said. As a traveling salesman, he was forced to take an early retirement since his deteriorating vision prevented him from driving. He then sold his house in New Jersey and moved with his wife to New York City. "Living in New Jersey without driving was a terrible thing," he said. "I couldn't get anywhere." New York City provided Artie with many transportation options. "I found it to be a much easier way of life," he said. "As my vision got worse, I was able to still be independent."
After moving to New York, Artie wanted to remain active. Before his diagnosis, he was an avid cyclist and runner, having participated in two New York City Marathons. Artie didn't want RP to take away his love for athletics. "When I started losing my vision, I didn't want to give into it," he said. "I wasn't going to let it stop me from doing the things I wanted to do."
In 2001, he discovered Achilles International, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people with disabilities participate in athletics. Artie started the Achilles Tandem Bike Program, which allows someone with a visual disability to ride on a two-seated bike with a sighted captain. For Artie, the opportunity to ride again was invaluable. "It's a tremendous activity that can encourage and bring about self-confidence to a blind person," he said.
In 2008, Artie partnered with Goldman Sachs to bring a mini-tandem bike event for teenagers to Lighthouse International's Youth Program. Artie provided the tandem bikes for the event, while Goldman Sachs volunteers helped the teenagers learn to ride. It was through that program that Artie met Mark Carhart, a partner at Goldman Sachs who helped organize the event. Mark, an ardent cyclist, formed an immediate bond with Artie. "He's one of the happiest people on the planet," said Mark. "He loves cycling and he's passionate about helping others. You can't be around him and not feel better about the world."
Mark Carhart & Artie Elefant at Double Up 4 Vision 2010
Lighthouse International started its own tandem fundraiser, Double Up 4 Vision, in 2010. Once again, Artie and Mark played an integral role as members of the planning committee and riding together for the 24 Hour Relay, a five borough cycling relay to kick off the event. The two rode together during the early morning through Manhattan and into Harlem, NY for the start of Double Up 4 Vision. "Double Up 4 Vision was great," said Artie. "For people who are visually challenged, it's a wonderful experience to team with a sighted person and be able to ride a bicycle."
For Artie and Mark's contributions to Double Up 4 Vision, they are being presented with the Philanthropy Award at Lighthouse International's Fifth Annual Volunteer Recognition Awards in June. They will also be involved in Double Up 4 Vision 2011, which is taking place on October 22. "One of the most important things the Lighthouse does is creating activities like tandem biking for the visually impaired community," said Artie. "It enhances our lives."
To learn more about Double Up 4 Vision 2011, visit www.doubleup4vision.org.
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