Randy Pierce is regarded, by definition, as a motivational speaker.
But that’s only because all that he really is doesn’t fit neatly in a headline, or on a promotional brochure or a business card.
Pierce spoke to about 100 people Wednesday evening at the Keene Family YMCA, part of the Y’s Community Impact series. He spoke to students at Keene Middle School and Monadnock Regional High School earlier in the day.
His guide dog, Autumn, was at his side.
Pierce is 51. He’s tall and fit. He’s articulate and approachable. And, he is blind. He has been for more than 20 years. His story is about persevering, about finding hope and possibility amid confusion and adversity. How you react to everyday challenges — large and small — is a life-changing and defining power we all hold, he told the audience at the YMCA.
His loss of vision rocked his life. It was out of the blue; it was a consequence of rare and still-undetermined medical circumstances. There were no straight answers, he said, just this new and wrenching reality.
He was down, but he got off the floor, he said. He was depressed, but he found light where it was sometimes dark.
He never lost his sense of adventure.
Randy became the first blind hiker to summit all 48 of the New Hampshire 4,000-footers during the summer hiking seasons over 10 years in 2010. In 2012, he accomplished all 48 peaks in a single winter season. He regularly runs the Boston Marathon, and in 2015 traveled to Tanzania and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with a team of 10 of his friends, including former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi. He’s a second-degree black belt, a Tough Mudder competitor.
His anthology of short stories was published earlier, and he hopes, he said Wednesday, to put the final period on his first full book by year’s end.
He’s also founder and president of 2020 Vision Quest, a nonprofit organization that aims to inspire students and professionals to reach their peak potential while providing financial support for crucial vision services.
Autumn is his third guide dog; Ostend was his first and Quinn his second. He spoke with fondness and emotion when he mentioned them. Ostend and Quinn died from cancer. When Pierce spoke about Quinn, his voice choked, tears filled his eyes and some in the audience reached for Kleenex or a shirt sleeve.
Pierce went totally blind when he was with Ostend; “He was the last thing I ever saw in this world,” Pierce said.
As for Quinn, a dog he hiked and ran with all the time and clearly was closest to, “I spent more time with him than with any other being in my world. More than my parents. He was there to celebrate, to help me when I was struggling. ... I held him in my lap when he took his final breath.”
Pierce encouraged the audience to imagine ways in which they might pivot to reach their peak potential.
When an audience member asked him what advice he’d offer given all that he has learned, he said: “Be more kind.”
His presentation included a slide show; he described images on the screen with the kind of detail that suggested he could see them as clearly as the audience. Near the end of his talk, he described with elaborate color and context, and breathtaking excitement, a mountaintop sunset. With words and pace, he painted a brilliant picture. “Did anyone not see that,” he then asked, challenging the notion that sight was merely a literal term.
He said he has as many “bad days” as the next person. But he said that, in life, no matter the circumstances, one can choose to limit excuses, solve problems, and rise above them.
“Disability means you don’t have something, that’s all,” he said. “I don’t have my eyesight.”
He said his life is rich and full and amazing by choice and the unconditional support and friendship of those closest to him. And he reminded the audience that their lives can be too, even if it doesn’t feel that way.
He spoke individually with people after his talk. Some were emotional interactions, with tears and hugs, about life and hiking. He stayed for two hours. “My chariot back to Nashua arrives at 8 … and,” he added, “I have a 10-mile run in the morning.”