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Terry Kelly--We Can Do Anything!

Terry Kelly is an ordinary guy. He does not consider his blindness to be a handicap. But the challenges presented to him and the path of life this Newfoundland native has chosen are by no means ordinary. Terry is a performer and an athlete. He has now developed a motivational program called We Can Do Anything which he presents to schools and community groups across Canada. His ability to share his many ups and downs while attacking all that life has to offer makes his show one of the more effective motivational presentations around.

I saw Terry's presentation at a role-model conference sponsored by the Alberta Society for the Visually Impaired in Edmonton last October. Frankly, I was skeptical at first. I don't like most motivational speeches because they either over dramatize or over simplify life. Terry's presentation had very little melodrama. He talked honestly about the struggles he has had coming to grips with being blind in a society where blindness is considered to be a handicap.

Yet his presentation was not simply a talk about how he overcame blindness, it was also a thoroughly professional musical performance. His musical talent is solid enough to stand on its own.

Terry's colleagues in the music business have demonstrated their admiration for his work. His persistence and commitment to his work were recognized at both the 1993 East Coast Music Awards and at the 1993 Canadian Country Music Awards. Terry set an ECMA record by winning in every category in which he was nominated. His unprecedented tally included Album of the Year for Divided Highway ; SOCAN Song of the Year for In My Father's Hous e; Male Vocalist; Country Artist; and Live Act. Just a short time later Terry's ECMA award-winning single, In My Father's House , earned two nominations on the final ballot of the 1993 Canadian Country Music Awards in the categories of Single and SOCAN Song of the Year. We can Do Anything was also nominated in the Vocal Collaboration category.

Terry's enthusiasm for life and sheer determination gained him recognition as an athlete as well as a performer. He has distinguished himself as the third blind person to run a mile in under five minutes, he was a member of the Canadian Olympic Team in 1980 and was honoured by carrying the Olympic Torch as part of the Cross Canada Torch Relay for the 1988 Winter Olympics.

Terry is very proud to acknowledge his gratitude for the heroes and mentors in his life. Several of his songs are moving tributes to the love and courage of his parents. Standing in the back of the auditorium holding my fourteen-month old son, Philip, tears came to my eyes. Any parent would feel the effort of raising a child was worthwhile listening to a tribute like that.

Terry mentions other heroes as well. His stories about Mo and the law of the farm left his audience laughing while making an important point. We often sell ourselves short and don't attempt things because we assume they are impossible. Terry and his classmates at the school for the blind in Halifax learned to drive a tractor because Mo the farmer simply refused to accept their assertion that blind people could not do that. As Terry put it chickens died , but we figured out how to drive the tractor!

Terry's struggle with deciding whether or not to carry a white cane will be painfully familiar to many blind people. The cane represents far more than a useful travel tool--it is a public proclamation of one's blindness. Terry struggled to reach the level of self-assuredness he needed in order to carry his cane with pride and confidence.

If I have any quarrel at all with Terry's presentation, it is that the community of blind people was not clearly portrayed as a support and an asset. The value of contact with other blind people was implicit in his remarks, but a casual observer might leave Terry's presentation believing that living successfully with blindness is an individual accomplishment.

In reality, each of us is strengthened by the accomplishments of other blind people. We are a community joined together by physical characteristics rather than by geographic proximity. The efforts of blind people who have gone before us have created a climate that makes Terry's accomplishments possible. The work Terry is doing is helping to create a climate that will inspire and encourage a whole new generation of blind youth.Working separately we can all do a little. By combining our efforts and consciously building upon the work of others--our effectiveness increases greatly. Succeeding in our lives is a tribute to our individual talents and spirit. Sharing that success with others is a contribution to our collective future.