The Blind Renaissance Man: Bowling Perfect 300 Games, Racing Sailboats & Heat Treating Steel

This is a very exciting new episode of The Motivational Intelligence Podcast. Sean Johnson and Dave Naylor interview Keith Heiden, a man who has lived an incredible life. He was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease due to a bad case of strep throat when he was only about 12 years old, leading him to become legally blind. That didn’t stop him from creating an extraordinary life! Keith regularly bowls perfect games, golfs, races sailboats and is the father to four children. He also works at a heat treating plant. Despite his limitations, he has never let his vision get in the way of challenging himself and trying new things. When asked about how he pushed past having a negative mindset about his limitations, Keith replied, “I think you need to look at people for the good things they do and not the bad things. So, you don’t look at the disability, look at what they’re good at. For every person that’s got something they can’t do, there’s something they can do really well.”

He has certainly carried that lesson with him throughout is whole life, doing many different activities than many people in his position wouldn’t necessarily be willing to try. Keith never let himself feel hopeless and continues to be a very hard worker.  “I think maybe it’s just a work ethic, just work at it. And you can be good at anything you want, if you just work at it. It’s also depends how much time you’ve got and how much you want to put into it. How good do you want to get at it?” he says. We can all learn something from Keith’s story. Interested in learning more? Check out the newest episode of The Motivational Intelligence Podcast, “Keith Heiden- The Blind Renaissance Man: Bowling Perfect 300 Games, Racing Sailboats & Heat Treating Steel” and as always, leave us a review, check us out on social media and let us know what you’d like to hear next!

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Transcribed Audio

Keith Heiden – The Blind Renaissance Man: Bowling Perfect 300 Games, Racing Sailboats & Heat Treating Steel

Keith Heiden: Well. Hello everybody!

David Naylor: We have a very cool individual with us today. A bit of a Renaissance man, in terms of, everything that he’s done and accomplished in the course of his life and a pretty inspiring story all in all.

I met my wife, back when we were in high school and we dated for a long time. I remember when she was in 10th grade, her 10th grade math teacher Mr. Powell, told her that she was no good at math. That girls just couldn’t do math for whatever reason. And, my wife, she bought in to that label. And what’s interesting is here we are, 30 odd years later and to this day, she still owns that label that she’s no good at math.

And I think so many individuals as they journey through life, they label themselves in different ways. They label themselves and say, “well, I’m not a morning person”, or “I’m not good at remembering people’s names” or whatever else it may be. And, the gentleman that we have with us today is one of those individuals who has managed to avoid those labels in a pretty spectacular way.

His name is Keith Heiden, and Keith is a gentleman who runs a steel hardening facility. He’s an avid bowler. A golfer, has raced sailboats, has captained a boat, which is a pretty impressive boat, I’ve seen it. He is an individual who has accomplished some pretty incredible things in the course of his lifetime. And oh, by the way, I should also mention that he’s a gentleman who is also legally blind.

So, an individual who has done a miraculous job, avoiding the labels. And so, Keith, welcome to the show today.

Keith Heiden: Thank you!

David Naylor: So, Keith, tell us a little bit about how initially you lost your eyesight, it started to become an issue when you were pretty young, right?

Keith Heiden: 10 or 11. I have what’s called uveitis. It’s a disease that attacks the UVL track in by the retina. And when it lays dormant, it’s fine. It’s just the fact that things flare it up. I had a disease when I was younger. I had a strep infection was younger, which flared it to the point that I was almost blind when I was 12.

The eyesight came back when they cured the strep infection. But then, to keep the disease dormant over the years, you’re taking medications that attacks the rest of the eye.

So, in the 55 – 60 years, I’ve been doing this with my eyesight. You start losing, cataracts go bad because the medicine attacks and my cornea has been transplanted twice.

Cataracts are one thing, and the retina is always deteriorating now. It’s just slowing it down. The, as I said before, right eye is totally gone. Maybe 25, 30 years ago. The left eye is 2300/2350, depending on what day it is, just how clear it is because the disease.

Cells flow into the UVL track, which blocks the eye blurry. So, some days it’s better than others and depending on clarity and stuff like that. And I stayed just one step ahead of technology. They couldn’t actually, when I first had my cataract done, they couldn’t even take it out.

It just had to get bad and then finally somebody does suffer a way of doing it. I think I had a kids operation. I was 29 when I had it removed, and they actually did it. Operation they normally do on three year olds and four year olds. They emulsified it and took it out, but they couldn’t replace it.

So, I had the thick glasses for a while. And then when they did my first cornea transplant, they also replaced the cataracts. But it deteriorates over years and the cornea transplant only lasts a few years. My first one lasted 10 and this one’s been in three and it started to deteriorate already, so that’ll have to be replaced again. But you go along with it, I’ve stayed ahead of technology. I feel blessed that I’ve still got my eyesight, enough of it to at least get around. As I said, 2350’s not near as bad as a lot of other people who are out there and 2200… I have full circumference for my vision, which a lot of people have narrow vision and stuff like that, they’re a lot worse off than I am.

So, it just depends on the level and how you do it and how you manage it. There’s not a whole lot of “can’t do” with limitations. It’s a nice thing about a bowling ball, it comes back to you. Golf balls don’t come back to you, they get lost. And I know better than my supporting staff. My kids have been fantastic about it. They’ve always been great to me. I play golf with my son all the time. I bowled with my daughter and my son. My wife, my wife’s a great support and the fact that she has to take me to work every day and pick me up. You don’t get that too often.

And somebody that’s willing to get up when she’s retired, she still takes me to work every day and comes and get me and puts up with it. But you really know better than what your supporting staff is. And I’ve had a great supporting staff.

David Naylor: Yeah. So, tell us Keith, I mean you were pretty young when this initially came on…how did it kind of first present itself?

Keith Heiden: Well, as I said, the first time I ever did, I was only 11 or 12 and I almost went blind. But then the eyesight came back to the point, that at that point, you really didn’t have a problem. I was back to 2030-2040 with glasses and stuff like that. So, at first it wasn’t, but we knew it was going to be a slow deterioration.

I’ve had some great doctors. I mean when I went and first saw Dr. Pearson, which was when I was 11. I went in there because they thought I had pink eye and he looked at me and he says, I can’t handle this. And he sent me down to the John Hopkins hospital in Baltimore.

They were the ones that figured out what was going on. He sent me to a doctor called Dr. Wood, because one of the best UVA, he knows uveitis better than anybody else around me. That was his specialty was, and at that time he was like 85 and this was ‘61 so it was incredible that they were able to see my vision back then.

So, as I said, I just stayed ahead of it. And I’ve had great doctors. Dr. Pearson, Dr. Kennedy, Dr. Metza out at strong, did my first, cataract. He did my cataract surgery. Dr Ching did my first, coronary transplant. Holly did my second cornea transplant. So, it’s been good doctors, a good city to have doctors in, Rochester is a great outside of John Hopkins being probably one of the best. Going out to California maybe, but in Rochester, they’ve got a great medical staff when it comes to eyesight.

David Naylor: Yeah. So, I mean, what if you can remember? I’m just thinking about being an 11, 12 year old kid, and having your vision starting to go away and it had to be scary and overwhelming.

Keith Heiden: I don’t remember that much of it. And it happened so fast because I was at summer camp, came out of camp, I went to school. My teachers were great. I never lost a year in school. I lost six weeks of school and never lost that year. Because my teachers were so great.

I did go to Allendale Columbia. Allendale, at the time and that’s the reason they were able to work with me nights and stuff like that and got me through that whole mess. But I just don’t remember it being scary outside of the fact that it happens so fast. It was three months deterioration and three months later I was back to normal.

What I considered normal at the time, because the eyesight came back and then it did start to deteriorate over the next 50 years. I drove till ’82, that’s when I finally got to the point that I couldn’t drive anymore, but my eyesight deteriorated to the point that in ‘82 that it was down to like 2100, so you couldn’t drive anymore.

And then the right eye was gone at the same time and then from that, it’s just been a deterioration to the point it’s at right now.

David Naylor: You mentioned that once they cured the strep infection, was that something that was, was it relatively easy to, it sounded like you went to Johns Hopkins to get it diagnosed, but was it relatively easy to cure the strep infection then?

Keith Heiden: They didn’t have antibiotics. Okay, so literally, no, it wasn’t. There’s like 102 different types of strep really, and they give you a skin shot for each one of them to see which one you’ve got, and then they narrow it down. It’s more like an allergy.

When you go in and get allergy tests, the same thing. Then they deteriorate. Finally, they get it down to one, and then they go out and, I don’t know, they kill some animal to get the serum and then you go through a year or de-sensation of the strep infection. So, it’s a shot every week. I hate needles…

As I said, the 102 strip tests were one thing because they did that all in one night.

David Naylor: Wow.. Really?

Keith Heiden: And your back, all 102 of them on the back. So those are things I remember, but I don’t remember whether I was scared or not like that, because it was just my mother and I down there and there again, I had great support.

David Naylor: So how were your parents? I mean obviously as a parent that had to be tremendously scary?

Keith Heiden: And they never showed it. Although I think my mother, I saw more of my mother than I did my father, like my father was an incredible, just, “Do your thing and go to work every day and do your thing”

And he ran the shop that I have been running up until the last four or five years when I was trying to retire on him, but he ran that for years. And, you’d never noticed that. It was just part of every day we do this. You do what you have to do and yeah. He was a boater and a fisherman, and a hard worker.

I mean, if he wasn’t working at work, he was working on the house and the cottage, or working on something else. He was always working. I don’t ever remember the fear in them. They just, they’ve been incredibly supportive of me. They watched out for me, just didn’t let me know they were watching out for me. They kind of kept it quiet in the background, but they’ve always watched out for me.

David Naylor: So, kind of the fact that they didn’t, they didn’t transmit the fear to you, so you didn’t, you didn’t think to be afraid. It was…

Keith Heiden: They never stopped me from doing anything.

I wanted my license when I was 16, I got my license and I can never forget back in the ‘70s, that was snowmobiling in a lot and I could still see a back then, but Dr. Pearson found out I was snowmobiling and just came unglued from himself and was like “you’re driving a snowmobile!” Because there’s always the fear of the detached retina and all the other stuff that can happen.

I always said, I can’t go on in life looking at “ifs”…Just do it. And then the, “if I fall and hit my head, am I going to get a dis-attached retina?” The eyes was really bad anyways. You treat them somewhat decent. You try to be a little careful with what you do to your eyes, but you don’t you can’t stop living.

David Naylor: I think that’s wonderful advice. You think about how many people are, they roll through life with just that constant, the “what if”, the fear and that’s what causes them to kind of put those limitations on themselves, but to move without that is pretty liberating.

Keith Heiden: You just go it, you have to be cautious. I mean, there’s always caution that gets involved in it, you know be careful. I played softball till I was, well the night I took myself out of the game, I couldn’t see the ball coming off the bat anymore. In the right field because it was a little dark and dusky then, and that was back in ‘77 and that was one of those nights that got to me a little bit. I knew I loved to play ball. I thought it was, and I was playing with all my friends, the senior softball leagues and stuff like that and I couldn’t play anymore.

Now you go onto the next thing in life. Bowling’s always been something, I’ve been doing it since I was like seven years old and the 10 pin doesn’t move. It’s in the same place it was 60 years ago I don’t worry about it. Am I as good as I could be if I had eyesight? No, but if I work a little harder at it now, I can almost be as good.

David Naylor: Let’s just hold on a second here, because I know a little bit about your bowling, Keith. The pinnacle and bowling is bowling a perfect game, 300, right? It’s 13 strikes in a row, correct?

Keith Heiden: 12 strikes in a row.

David Naylor: And how many perfect games?

Keith Heiden: I’ve had five. There’s a couple reasons for that. One, I bowl a lot. Yeah, I did at one time, I don’t pull near as much as I used to, but when you bowl in three leagues a week and you put the time I did because I was coaching at the time.

Because my kids were in the senior, they were both bowling and they were, senior varsity bowlers. So, I was doing a lot of coaching. I learned a lot from coaching. I had a coach who was a ex-touring pro who understood the game and an understanding of the game. They can open up the room for error, right?

If you understand the game and you understand the technique, it’s no longer trying to hit a board, got room for error, and he could build that room for error. So, my errant shots wouldn’t cost me as much as somebody else’s errant shots, but it’s just working at the game, it was nothing spectacular. Anybody could be as good as I was if they would work at the game and just go practice.

David Naylor: So how do you compensate with your eyesight for something that?

Keith Heiden: You kind of, it’s all in your imagination. You kind of look at an area and say, “okay, that’s where I’m going to throw the ball.”

And then you really almost got to put a mark out there to throw it, because there’s nothing out there. You can’t see anything. I can’t see the arrows. I can’t see, the pins are a blur. I shoot at something imaginary. And that’s where you get your arms swing in and get it going in the right direction, or you throw it out over that imaginary mark.

And the other part of it is just understanding the game, that ball’s going to go to the 12th board and turn left and go into the pocket. It’s also understanding that part of the game, but that’s the technique of it.

David Naylor: So, does somebody explain, I’m not an expert bowler by any means, but I understand enough that the lanes are oiled and things like that, and that effects the way the ball…?

Keith Heiden: Right. It’s the stuff I learned from my coach.

David Naylor: Okay. So, does somebody explain like how the lane is set up to you and that helps you to visualize how to throw the ball?

Keith Heiden: The guys I bowl with are pretty good about the fact that if I throw it, I’ll ask him how my ball reacted. I also got a feel for it, because I can almost, I can’t see what it’s totally doing but I’ve been, I’ve been bowling since I was seven, so I pretty much know what it’s going to do and I can figure out. The balls not reacting the way I want it, I got to move a little bit. I can make my adjustments. I don’t make my adjustments fast enough because I can’t adjust, like somebody who sees, “Oh, I knew what that ball did.” I have to kind of guess, okay, what did the ball really do?

David Naylor: Can you tell that by sound or can you, what gives you a sense of what the ball did?

Keith Heiden: Well, I can tell when it hits a pocket by the sound, if I did it right. And also, you can just see you know how fast the pins move and whether it’s a light hit or not.

I can’t always tell which pin I left up. So, the guys I bowl with or the new scoring machines are kind of nice because they tell you which pins left up there. And then I just know, sometimes I think it helps me maybe because I don’t have to worry about hitting a board. You’re shooting in an area.

David Naylor: Right. And in, in perhaps it might minimize some of the distraction even I suppose in a sense?

Keith Heiden: It does, because I can’t see anything either to right or left to me a little bit, so that doesn’t bother me as much. The losing the eyesight, your focus becomes better.

Anyways, you had asked me the other day about my senses coming back… the two senses that came back. I couldn’t figure out what they really were and hearings one of them. But the other ones is my focus. When I really, when my focus is good, I’m really good. Some days it’s hard to focus, other days is better, but some days I can really focus and the 300 games for those games where you’re locked in it. And some of it is luck, blessed, you know?

He’s the off shot carried, right. It’s the amount of games you bowl. If you only bowl three games a week and one league, you’re probably not going to bowl a 300 very often. Because you just don’t have the, you don’t have the opportunity to start stringing strikes and get a good feel for it. Because it’s all feel.

David Naylor: So, talk to us about traditionally when we think of focus, we think of visually focusing. but you’re talking about, it’s more the mental focus

Keith Heiden: It’s all mental focus. You really have to visualize something there that’s not there. I could throw with that because I have a tendency to, my eyes move a little bit, and if they move, they don’t focus really fast. So, it’s really, really bad. As it’s bad enough, you can’t see what you’re shooting at anyways. If you move your eye that you have to refocus, you can’t refocus really fast. So, you’ve almost got to put that out of your mind and just really focus on something that’s not there.

David Naylor: Is there something that you do or have done in those games where you bowled the perfect game that kind of helps you click into that focus better?

Keith Heiden: If I find myself in that level and I start doing that and I kind of just lose myself in it. I just don’t get distracted by talking about stuff that could distract you or something like that. Just stay kind of in the moment. I’ve never really thought about that, but I know I go back and look at the games when I did that, I didn’t get distracted during the game. I didn’t get the argument with the guy next door because he stepped in my way or something like that. You just kind of let everything go and just focus on what you’re doing.

David Naylor: A lot of athletes I talk about that, it’s kind of “being in the zone,” you know? And it’s the ability to eliminate all those other distractions and just be in that moment, so to speak.

Keith Heiden: And I think some of it, it’s how good you are. I got a friend of mine who was almost a scratch golfer and it’s all hand eye coordination, and he’s been that way since he was in college. And for him, he only plays golf once or twice a week, but he’s still fantastic and yeah, but he’s got great hand eye coordination. And I think his focus is fairly good too. But I think, my hand eye coordination isn’t too bad, but problem is there’s no eyesight that focus on, you have to create that.

David Naylor: As a golfer is again, I think about golf as being one of those, it’s a very hand eye coordination dominant sport. Did you begin to learn to golf before you had the eyesight issue?

Keith Heiden: Yeah, I’ve played golf for years, but I’m not good at it. I love being outside and golf all about being outside. I try to be, I don’t compete against anybody when I golf with myself. That’s it, I don’t play leagues or anything like that be because it’s just, you can’t do it. I have to have somebody watch where the balls going and I can’t afford the caddy.

So, I have to rely on my kids and stuff like that, so your kids helping you. But I think that’s more, there’s focus involved, just hitting the ball because on the ball, on the tee, I can’t see real well. So, I compete against myself. I’m never, I’m never going to be good golfer, but yeah, I can have some fun with it and enjoy it.

David Naylor: And, is that very much the same thing where you sort of visualize the way your body’s moving and visualize where the ball is so that you’re able to do it.

Keith Heiden: Yeah. The issue with golf is, I can’t see where the ball comes off the tee. So, you really got to, you can almost go by where it landed and say, okay, that’s where it landed and there it is out there. I said, okay. And they’ll tell me. Most of the people like they had hoped that slice that you know. Okay. And you can tell where it lands when you get out to where it lands, so you can figure out what your shot was.

David Naylor: Do you think that that you have a better sense of what your body is doing because of the way you’re visualizing things?

Keith Heiden: Oh, I don’t think so. I think it’s just the fact if you practice, you’re going to get good at anything. I would be a hell of a lot better golfer if I got out and practiced once in a while and I just don’t have the time, or I lose the time because I haven’t got somebody who could do it with me. I don’t have a caddy. But if I could practice and play once or twice a week, I’d probably get better at that too. That’s why I’m just kind of a bad golfer, but I enjoy it.

David Naylor: And tell us about before we get started, you were talking about, sailing and sailing across the great lakes and things like that. When your eyesight isn’t there, how do you handle the sailing and the motorboating and things like that?

Keith Heiden: Even at 2300 or 2250 I could see out and binoculars bring things in, so you can see it. And it’s all about charting your course and sailing it. And I was never afraid of the great lakes. I’ve been stuck out in some pretty good size storms that would get my attention. We raced the sailboat for quite a few years and a lot of things in it, a lot of fun, but I don’t think, eyesight really bothers anybody who sails. My supporting staff who sailed with me, when it comes to the cruiser going across the lake and my wife drove it most of the time, because she can drive a straighter line than I could look up at the sky and watch the sky and then steer off the sky or the waves. I steer off waves a lot, if you get an angle on the wave and that’s how you’re going to hit it, just keep hitting it. So, but I can’t look out and see something 10 miles to mark off of like, my wife’s is like, we could see the windmills on Wolf Island, and I said, “well head for them. If you head for them then we are going in the right direction.”

David Naylor: And you joked earlier that she likes you to dock the boat!

Keith Heiden: She can’t dock the boat, she won’t have any part of it. She just looks at me and I always taught her what to do if something happened to me. I said, “just beach it. It just run it up on the beach. Don’t worry about it.”

That’s just, I think anybody can dock a big boat if you get used to it. Because I always said it was funny, we put the big boat in the water in the spring. It’d take me four hours to figure out how to drive it again.

Because you lose that ability all winter long on what the boat’s going to do and feeling the wind. I was really good at that in the sailboat, as you said, what senses come up, I could feel wind to the point of really and be able to sail the boat really good because you could feel it in your face which direction it was coming from. Everybody else looks at the twills on the water and I kind of just feel it where the wind’s coming from.

David Naylor: So Keith, I shared with you before…. you and I know a lot of people in common and I was talking to somebody who we both know really well. And he made a comment the other day when we were talking about you. He said, “I’ve never looked at Keith as being handicapped.” And he said, “and I think the reason is because Keith doesn’t look at Keith as being handicapped.” I’m curious, how did you avoid that label? So many people, their life would get smaller and smaller and smaller as their vision kind of got less and less and less. But you, yours didn’t…

Keith Heiden: I feel blessed that I got somewhat sight, for starters. You kind of open up on that a little bit. I don’t see it as a handicap. I just feel there’s things I can’t do, “I can’t do this. I’ll do something else.” I’m like, “I can’t drive anymore.” I think that was probably the biggest hit I ever took in my life. When I lost my license, because I used to drag race. I used to love to drive. I think I could go out and just drive all night just for the fun of it. And I just love to drive. I grew up in that era, the mid sixties,

David Naylor: muscle cars….

Keith Heiden: And all the other stuff, and I love the drive and I think that was the biggest hit. I took in ‘82 and that was probably the one of the biggest struggle because now you’re relying on somebody else to take you places and they’re getting, I had great supporting staff, so they didn’t see it any bothered to take me to work. It doesn’t bother them. Now all of a sudden it doesn’t, it’s not a handicap from my side of it.

David Naylor: Was there a time of depression that sort of followed that…

Keith Heiden: I can’t do anything… I’d go to something else. It was like when I could drive anywhere, go buy the sailboat, go start racing. So, I’ll go look for something else to do. Because there are going to be limitations. Everybody’s got limitations, what they can do what they can’t do. So, you could look for something else, but do something don’t.

David Naylor: So, where did that attitude come from? I mean, because that’s a unique perspective. I mean, for many people, and when you know something happens, they lose something. They got to go through that, the stages of mourning and they get depressed about it and all of that. And for you it was just like, okay, I can’t do that, so I’ll go do something else. Was that something your parents?

Keith Heiden: I don’t know. My parents were strong. They were always hard workers. I think maybe it’s just a work ethic, just work at it. And you can be good at anything you want, if you just work at it. It’s also depends how much time you’ve got and how much you want to put into it. How good do you want to get at it? I could be a better bowler again if I wanted to be, if I wanted to get up and work, bowl three nights a week again and really get into it. I can be better than I am right now, but I don’t know if I want to put that much time because now, I’ve got grandkids and all the other stuff, and I still like my boating and my fishing and stuff like that. I can’t put a key on to that. I really don’t know why. I’m different that way that, “okay, I can’t do it. Go do something else.”

David Naylor: But it strikes me. There just has to be, almost as that underlying belief that, “whatever I focus on, I’m going to get better at.”

Keith Heiden: I mean, the more you do something that you’re going to get better at it and you make, I work every day. I work on a computer all day long. But there’s things I do that I mean, I have to get within a half inch of the screen, I have magnifying glasses. You use the tools you can get your hands on to get better at what you do.

But you can’t, the tools are there that you have to, you have to work on a computer. That’s part of life. I think one of my biggest assets that I’ve ever had is I, with technology at my age, I’ll be 70 very shortly, I never let a computer get my way. I mean, they were tools to use and they were a great tool and especially in our business where we are, we’re making better temperatures and things like that. In a commercial heat treat, you have to keep up with it. You have to stay with those tools and learn how to use them. I don’t have to learn how they work. I just got to learn how to use them. My son knows how they work, he’s the IT person.

David Naylor: So, you’re kind of going back a little bit on it. So initially your eyesight, you started to, when you’re 11-12 years old it hit you, then kind of came back and then you was in your late teens that it started to deteriorate again or?

Keith Heiden: I didn’t really notice it deteriorating until probably the mid-seventies.

David Naylor: So how old were you at that point when it started to become more apparent that it was starting to deteriorate?

Keith Heiden: 26 or 27 because I had my first cataract surgery in ‘79 so I was 29. So it was right there that it started to deteriorate it again to the point that all of a sudden ‘79 there’s going to be a point where, okay. And that was because of the cataract. And so, you just go get the cataract taken care of. Next thing is, I’ll never forget the morning I came out of the hospital after the cataract surgery. I’ll never forget the fact that with a cataract, everything starts getting white at you, and when you have the lens removed and it’s gone, then all of a sudden greens, green! And I had it done in the spring, so everything was gorgeous again.

That was probably the coolest thing I can ever remember is coming out and seeing all the colors again. Cataract surgery really takes, I’ve never lost the colors again. Up to this point, I still can see colors really well. My vision is, I got clear into my retina now, but now it’s just the fact that it’s fuzzy and it does. I don’t get the, it’s like working to saran wrap. So it’ll never be that clear again. As I said, it started to deteriorate now where I know I’m going to have to go get something taken care of again. But every time we do that, it never brings it back to a the original spot, it always loses a little bit in the process.

David Naylor: So it’s kind of, you go through the pendulum and then you go, and then there’s either surgery or something and it can kind of help it come back a little bit.

Keith Heiden:  Start all over again. Doctors keep looking at me and say, It’s surprising. I can still see. So that’s what’s blessing. We’ve stayed ahead of them. I’m just going to still see him. And as long as I can still see, I’m going to keep doing things.

David Naylor: And then the other thing that you know is incredibly impressive, you work in an environment where you’re heat treating steel. There are furnaces, it’s not necessarily a safe environment, there’s definitely hazards that are there. So how do you do that?

Keith Heiden: I get to avoid the hazards. I’ve been in the shop, I worked in the same place for 53 years. I know where the bricks are. I could still get around the shop fairly well, although I take my time now. I don’t run through the shop anymore. The guys at the shop had been, they know I have an issue, so they’re all pretty good about it, so I can do my job.

And that’s the key, you have to go do your job every day. You use tools to do your job at that point in time. I find today one of the hardest things for me to do, believe it or not, is mow lawns. I can’t see where I’ve been, I have to let the lawn get just a little bit longer, so now I can see where I’ve been. Most people just go out. I can’t do that. I have to wait for it to get a little longer so I can see the contrast, so I can see the contrast of where I’ve been. Which drives my wife a little nuts because the lawn gets long, but that’s okay.

And they’re getting, the eye doctors tell me I shouldn’t be mowing the lawn because of the dust. Crazy shit, I can’t do that, you just got to go do it.

David Naylor: You can’t live your life in a bubble.

Keith Heiden: No, I won’t do that.

David Naylor: So, Keith I’m curious. You’ve been through a phenomenal journey of life. You’re decidedly an individual who, even though others have tried to put limits on you, you haven’t put limits on yourself. Knowing what you know from the journey, if you had to go back and give the 12 year old Keith advice from what you’ve learned, what advice would you give yourself, your young self?

Keith Heiden: I’ve always had the dream that I’ll be able to see again. Don’t ever lose the dream. It might happen. So, you have the dream. Someday I might be ableto see and drive again. In reality, is it going to happen? Probably not. But it’s something to dream about.

Keep up. Always keep the fact that it could be, it might get better and think about the fact that it could be a lot worse. So kind of in the middle, you have the dreams, but reality of life sets in and says, “okay, I’m just going to do it!” I can still go play golf. I’m very happy about that. I can still bowl, fine and dandy! If I can’t do those things, I’ll go find something else to do. I don’t enjoy just sitting around. I can fish, I’ll be able to fish for the rest of my life. I love fishing now. I got a lot of friends that we go fishing together, so I don’t have to worry about how to get there and stuff. I said, “you’re no better than your supporting staff.” My friends have been great. I got one friend that picks me up, we go fishing, and once a year picks me up, takes me, we go fishing and we do it every year and he’s been great about it.

It’s the people around you that make life easier. It’s friends of ours, joint friends. Getting into Uber, I don’t use Uber. I just get it over. You learn how to use Uber. I said, okay, that’ll be the next step. But learning how to use Uber so I can get around a little easier by my own.

So, I don’t see myself as anything special. I just do what I have to do and I enjoy life. I think, one thing is, I don’t think I really would change a whole lot in what I did.

I think the one thing, I never blamed anybody. Yeah. Because there’s no blame in this. This is not nobody’s fault. This is just the fact of life. So, you go on with it. I think I’ve seen friends blame things. Yeah, blame this, blame that. There’s nothing you can do about that. It’s just part of life. So, you just continue on.

David Naylor: But that in and of itself is so unique.  So many people are, “Oh, woe is me and why did this happen to me and why?” And they kind of go down that kind of victim thought process. How did you avoid that?

Keith Heiden: There was nobody to blame. I can’t blame myself anyway. I could because basically my body is deteriorating, but nobody else’s fault. But, if you look at them and nobody else blamed me, I’ve never had it around me.

My, my support staff never blamed anybody for it. I never saw anybody yell and scream and say, “okay, this was because of this. Why was it caused?” They still to this day do not know what causes uveitis or what caused the strep journey to flare it up. They had rumors and they thought about things that could be rheumatic fever and all of sudden, but nobody really knows. Just, can you blame the environment. Yeah, probably. Maybe, who knows? It’s just, there’s no sense to it. That’s a waste of time.

David Naylor: Well, and that’s it. And I think you’re 100% correct on that. There’s a lot of wasted energy that goes and blame and worry and it doesn’t get you anywhere.

Keith Heiden: It’s just, it’s how you face it. Just keep going with it. What you do, I love to do. I still love to compete. That’s a little competition here and there and the bowling, I like to go out and compete against my sons. It’s good competition. It’s fun, especially when I can beat them once in a while.

David Naylor: Probably a little blow to their ego.

Keith Heiden: I’ve had people comment about, and it’s the jokes and there are people, I’ve beat people bowling that really got irritated, “Yeah, the blind guy just beat me,” you know?

And I don’t think they really realize that you kind of beat me easily if you’d put more time into the game, that I put into it. I said, it’s nothing special that I beat you. It’s just the fact that you didn’t put enough time in the game. And I’ve heard all the blind jokes in the world and they’d never bothered me. It’s just, okay. I’ve never had anybody really get mean about it, a couple people I know, but did you just, okay, you want to be that way, be that way. That’s fine. It’s not affecting them. When somebody jokes about something like that, there’s nothing mean in some people’s jokes.

People right now, they take all this. Everybody’s every says, “Oh, it’s mean.” Well, some of it isn’t mean, some of it’s just plain funny. Yeah and I laugh at blind jokes. There are some good jokes out there.

I laugh when I trip over something because I didn’t see it. So you’ll say what? Well didn’t see it. It’s my fault for not looking. Yeah there again, if I trip over something, it’s that. It’s nobody’s fault that I tripped over it. It’s my fault for not taking the time or just making sure I did it right or are doing that. So, I think today and that age, you’ve got to go with it. So, and some of the jokes are funny and I think people just take some things way too seriously.

David Naylor: No, you are an inspiration in so many regards and you know what it is you do. And I think there’s wonderful lessons for everybody in that void. Avoid the labels, no matter how hard other people may try to put them on you. And don’t, go down that “victim pathway” of pointing fingers at, woe is me and all of that because it doesn’t serve anything. And hold on to that dream, whatever it may be.

Keith Heiden: And yeah. I think also, I think I look at a lot of the people out there. There are so many people out there, who fought things a lot worse than I’ve ever fought. Have you looked at some of the disabilities people have and there are so many people that have achieved so much. I think you need to look at people for the good things they do and not the bad things. So, you don’t look at the disability, look at what they’re good at. For every person that’s got something they can’t do, there’s something they can do really well. And you need to look at that and especially even in your job, don’t find a job.. find a job you’re good at. Yeah. And, and the, and there’s always something, everybody that comes into our place, who has ever worked for us, I’ve never looked at what they did wrong. I have always looked at what they can do really well. Yeah. And the, you take that and build on it.

And I’ve been lucky. My bosses, who are my bosses now have never looked at me, as you said, they’ve never looked at me with a disability. They’ve always looked at what I can do for them good. And that meant a lot to me. So basically, I’ve still no better than what the supporting staff is around me. But that’s a good thing. You don’t look at somebody for what they can’t do. Look at for what they can do.

David Naylor:  And in managing people in the shop and things like that, how do you see them respond when you treat them that way?

Keith Heiden: I’ve had great response from the team members I’ve had with me because we’ve all got faults. You don’t look at it like a mistake is the end of the world. They made a mistake, let’s try not to make the mistake again. Let’s learn from what we did and let’s go on from there. Oh, but you’re really good at this. So, we’re going to specialize you this.

Being in the heat treat industry, we’re dealing with tolindate people and everything else.  Most of the people are not rocket scientist. This is not rocket science, but they all have good points in their smart. And you just bring that out and in this kind of look, aside from the things they’re not good at, you can work around it. If I can work around that doing some of the things I don’t want to do, if they can work or you work around some of the good things, but everybody can do something well.

David Naylor: Keith, I got to say, thank you so much for coming in today and sharing your story with us and in helping all of us to really look at ourselves a little bit differently and what we’re giving ourselves permission to do. You truly are an inspiration, so thank you very much.

Keith Heiden: I appreciate you having me. I just hope people look at it and I’ve done some good, someplace along the line.

David Naylor: I think you decidedly have!

Keith Heiden: Thank you for having me.

*Transcription was edited for clarity

Show Notes

0:04- Intro

2:32- Issues with eyesight at a young age

7:55- The deterioration and diagnosis

9:00- Curing the strep infection

10:52- Supportive parents

12:42- Perfect bowling games

17:00- The mental focus

21:08- Sailing and motor boating

23:15- Avoiding the label

25:16- Ignoring the limitations and doing something else

26:17- “Whatever i focus on, I’m going to get better at”

27:57- First cataract surgery

31:04- Keith’s advice for his younger self

33:40- Avoiding a victim thought process

37:53- A positive work environment

39:15- Conclusion/ final thoughts

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