Interviews

A Zebra in the Dark – An Interview with Dave Holdwright

When Romeo and I attended the Giants football game a couple weeks ago, we met a man named Dave Holdwright in the WFAN broadcast booth. We introduced ourselves and I shook his hand. As Romeo went to do the same, they bumped forearms–something Romeo jokingly referred to as “the blind handshake.” Dave is also blind, and the story of how that happened was certainly new to me. So, this past week, I called Dave and spoke to him for a little while so I could share that story with you.

Dave is a football guy–always has been. But while the players were battling it out on the field, Dave was running back and forth as a referee. His career as a ref started in 1968, when he coached youth high school games. From there, he moved up to Division two and three college games and finally, he ended up officiating Division One Double A games–known as the Ivy and Patriot Leagues.

During that time, Dave also worked as a mortgage banker, and for 26 years, he worked for the New York Giants as well–helping them with various duties in the Press Box. All of that changed on December 30, 2003.

Dave had some serious back problems and elected to have surgery to fuse his L3, 4, 5, and S1 vertebrae. The surgery lasted eleven and a half hours, and when he woke up afterwards, he found himself in complete darkness. In a rare occurrence, blood flow to the optic nerve was cut off during the surgery and Dave is now permanently blind–though, he did say with a small laugh, “My back feels great.” Faced with rehabilitation for both his back and his vision, he knew he had a long road ahead of him. He remarked that accepting the fact that he was going to be blind for the rest of his life at the age of 59 was really tough for him at the beginning.

In early 2004, he began receiving training from the Connecticut Services for the Blind, who, according to Dave, were a wonderful group of people. They taught him how to operate in his home, as well as how to use a cane, cross streets, and utilize public transportation. The following year, they recommended that Dave receive training from the Carroll Center for the Blind in Massachusetts and paid for that in full. While at Carroll, Dave learned how to use JAWS and received advanced mobility and orientation training.

When asked about his training, he said that all of the in-home exercises were easy–it was, after all, the home he had lived in for a very long time. “I know it like the back of my hand,” he said. But getting around town proved to be more challenging, and rather than shy away from it, Dave focused most of his training on how to operate in the world outside of his front door.

Now, Dave goes for walks around town with his referee buddies frequently and surfs the internet like a pro. He and his wife share breakfast as she reads the newspaper out loud. He was also quick to say that the New York Giants always took care of him after his surgery, even going so far as to grant him permanent credentials so he can attend every home game in the press box. It’s given him an opportunity to remain intimately connected to that part of his life that he really loves. Though, as Dave says, “Sometimes the team can really make it tough to be a Giants fan.”

As a Redskins fan, I can totally sympathize.

Interview with Blind Actor, Antoine McCracken

I had the pleasure of speaking with Antoine McCracken, a blind actor and Ziegler Magazine reader, a few days ago.  Antoine first got in touch with me via email asking to post an encouraging message to the blind community in our Special Notices section.  His message was so good, that I asked him if he would be willing to grant me a brief interview and he kindly agreed. 

Antoine lost most of his sight at age 7.  Due to glaucoma, he experienced retinal detachment which left him entirely blind in his left eye, and left him with only very minimal vision in his right eye.  Antoine currently lives in Virginia and works as an actor.  He’s originally from Baltimore and cheers for all of their sports teams.  Being originally from the Baltimore area myself, I can commiserate with him, especially when discussing the Orioles.  But I digress. 

Antoine began his acting career in 2000 when the Maryland Society for Sight received funds from the United Way of Central Maryland.  The United Way was looking for a spokesperson and Antoine was picked to represent them.  He did various photo shoots for them, with some of his pictures making it onto billboards, and newspaper and internet promotional spots for the next year.  In June of 2000, he was asked to do a commercial, as well.  He was also asked to attend a convention in Baltimore and speak to various media outlets as a representative of The United Way.  As his experience grew, his love of talking to people and acting grew as well.

In 2001, Antoine moved to Virginia and started to work as a mentor, which was a great role for him because he truly enjoyed helping people and improving the lives of others, something he says he was put on this Earth to do.  Soon after his move, he was employed by radio station WTJZ, where he received free training to learn how to work the soundboards.  Antoine learned to operate the complex equipment so quickly that the radio station decided to hire him as a DJ.  It also didn’t hurt that he had a decent speaking voice and was an interesting person.  He enjoyed his position as a radio DJ until the station was closed down in 2007. 

After his radio days had ended, Antoine set out to continue pursuing his acting career.  He auditioned for movies as well as commercials and voice-overs.  He is now featured in a music video called “Home”, which can be seen and heard at www.graceandmercyrecords.com.  He also has a youtube page where all of his commercials can be seen and listened to at www.youtube.com/lamontantoine.

What really caught my attention with Antoine was his attitude.  You simply can’t keep him down, no matter what, and he wants to encourage every blind person to be the same.  He wants to see blind people gaining their independence and leading rich lives that they can be proud of.  He said, “You don’t have to stay home and not live your life. You can be whatever you want to be. Your mind isn’t disabled.  Don’t let anyone tell you “you can’t be that!”  Surround yourself with people who will encourage you to do better.  Take your challenges in stride and learn to work around them. Don’t allow them to defeat you.”  He also says to the parents of blind children, “It’s important for parents to let their blind children go out and try things, don’t be afraid to let them explore the world.”  He credits his mother for giving him these values.  She raised him and his siblings and always made sure they were taken care of, despite the challenges that met her.  Now, Antoine looks at life and its multitudinous number of challenges and says he will live it to its full potential, no matter what.

Antoine and I finished our conversation with him saying, “A lot of people think that blind people can only be piano tuners.  I’m not saying that it’s a bad job, and if you want to be a piano tuner, then go be the best piano tuner you can be.  But don’t ever let anyone pigeon hole you just because you’re blind.  You may be blind, but you’ve got a mind, and you’ve got potential.  That’s all you need to be something great.”

I had a great conversation with Antoine and I think that he has a great message to give to the blind community.  He has told me that if anyone would like to get in touch with him to talk, that’d I’m free to give out his email address.  Due to privacy concerns over the internet, I will not post his email address here, but please email me at blind@verizon.net if you’d like his contact information.