Jeremy Poincenot – VOC Vision Hero Ambassador
Life is all about attitude
Jeremy Poincenot’s life goal is to inspire people to overcome their life challenges and empower them to be more resilient when faced with unexpected adversity. He does so by candidly sharing his own personal experience. In 2008, when he was a 19-year-old sophomore at San Diego State University, Jeremy suddenly became legally blind due to a rare genetic disease for which there is no treatment and no cure. By learning to use attitude to turn this challenge into an opportunity, Jeremy won the World Blind Golf Championship in 2010. He continues to play golf competitively and is a sought-after inspirational speaker. Jeremy, our 2015 Vision Hero Ambassador, shared his story with us:
Tell us about the experience of losing your sight.
I was a pretty typical student at SDSU. I’d joined a fraternity, selected international business as my major and was set to graduate in four years. Then, while walking around campus, I realized that some signs were blurry. So the day before Thanksgiving 2008, I went to an optometrist. I couldn’t see the eye chart at all when I covered my left eye. The doctor actually thought I might have a brain tumor. So over the next few weeks, I underwent multiple tests and was misdiagnosed multiple times. In the meantime, my vision deteriorated severely, and in two months I went from having 20/20 vision to becoming legally blind with no central vision. My peripheral vision remained intact, but I could no longer read, drive or distinguish faces.
It was my mother’s diligent research that led us to discover that I have Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON). This is an inherited disease that results in loss of central vision. It is passed down from mothers, and affects 1 in 50,000 people.
I was devastated and depressed. I wondered, why me? What did I do wrong to deserve this? I complained. I sulked. I was bitter. I slept all day. I could see 20/20 in my dreams and then I’d wake up and be legally blind. I hoped there was an afterlife – because the life I had known was over.
During that time, a military plane crashed into a house in San Diego and killed a man’s family. Seeing the man on TV made me realize that I needed to snap out of it. I realized I wasn’t nearly in such bad shape. I had become a burden to my family. This man inspired me to develop a positive attitude.
So I went back to school. It was strange not knowing who I said hello to on campus, but every single one of my friends stepped up to help me. I started listening to books or enlarging them on a monitor. Over time, I became more proactive. I went skydiving. I became more involved in my fraternity. I started raising money to support vision research.
This disease has given me shoes to fill – I’m determined to help find a cure because I don’t want my little sister and brother and other carriers of genetic diseases to worry about going blind.
What role does golf play in your life?
Golf is my passion. I played on both my middle and high school golf teams, and my dad and I played every Sunday from when I was 12 to 17. When I lost my sight, I was devastated, thinking that I would not be able to play golf again.
When my mom told me that she’d discovered the United States Blind Golf Association, I thought she was joking. I was skeptical and hesitant. Then I decided to give it a shot. And from the first round, I realized that nothing is impossible. With my dad as my guide and teammate, our primary goal is to just have fun. Winning the 2010 World Blind Golf Championship in England was an unbelievable experience. Since then, I’ve had incredible opportunities to play golf all around the world. I’ve also been able to raise awareness for blindness and the challenges those of us with limited sight face every single moment of our lives.
What have you learned about yourself in the past few years?
I could easily still be at my parents’ house sulking and complaining. But when I started thinking about my challenge with a positive mindset, I gained a purpose in life. I realized there’s nothing I can do to change the situation. Instead, I learned to adapt.
It’s inevitable that we will all face obstacles. Some are minute and some are so daunting we don’t know how to proceed. I’ve learned that how you face those obstacles will determine your happiness and your character. I don’t take many things for granted any more. I appreciate the things I do have. That’s why when I’m invited to speak, I typically close by asking people: “How will you face the obstacles in your life?”
What does being a VOC Vision Hero mean to you?
It means I’m not alone in the effort to find cures for genetic vision disorders, and it’s great to be part of a like-minded community. I’m humbled by the opportunity to provide inspiration, because I see myself as just a guy doing normal things… who happens to be blind.