Head in the clouds: Blind 74-year-old man gets his kicks skydiving

Published on Thursday, 22 May 2014 00:08 - Written by Emily Guevara, eguevara@tylerpaper.com

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When Ken Cary is skydiving, he cannot be contained. His mantra and something he encourages his tandem instructor Hank Prewitt to say is “Take the devil and whip him up beside the head.”

On the airplane ride up to 11,000 feet, he’s enthusiastic and shouting, “I am superman” and “this is a piece of cake.”

Crouched in the plane’s doorway where he is attached to Prewitt, his face doesn’t show fear, but Prewitt has to pull Cary’s right hand off the leg of a passenger.

And in a few seconds they jump out, freefalling for up to one minute and reaching a speed of 120 mph before pulling the parachute. Then it’s four and a half minutes of floating before they land on their bottoms on the ground.

“It’s not skydiving; it’s bull riding,” Cary can be heard saying in a video of the jump.

At 74, Cary has every reason to be at home relaxing.

Add to that four disabilities: He is deaf, blind (has 5 percent of his vision), suffers from neuropathy in his hands and has memory issues and many in his situation would sit at home and never leave.

But not Cary. He is thankful to be blind, is enjoying life and sharing his secret for happiness with anyone who will listen. But he wasn’t always this way.

When Mary Ransom met Ken Cary, he was losing his vision and could hardly walk. He had had a stroke and was frustrated, uncertain about the future and a bit angry.

That’s when she shared with him about how the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services Division for Blind Services could help him. And over the next few years they did.

But it was not easy, she said. Teachers worked with him so he could learn how to identify items in his house and how to get around, but he wasn’t getting it.

“I felt it was going to have to be more intensive,” Ms. Ransom said.

So she sent him to the Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center in Austin. This center is a place where blind adults can receive vocational rehabilitation training.

Working in partnership with the field office that referred the person, center employees teach travel skills, home and personal management, organizational skills, adaptive software and more, client life services manager Charles Atwell said.

After six months there, Cary was a changed man.

“He was on top of everything,” Ms. Ransom said. “Sailing through the Braille, sailing through the technology, sailing through everything.”

In addition to learning life skills he also learned about skydiving. And he decided to do it at Skydive San Marcos.

Growing up, Cary was a self-described daredevil and independent. He always wanted to take risks, he said. So even though he had some disabilities, that daredevil was still inside.

Cary has jumped six times with a tandem instructor, and his goal is to get to at least eight so he can beat President George H.W. Bush’s seven jumps.

“I think this gives them confidence,” he said of skydiving. “This gives you a confidence (and) self-esteem. … Just because you’re blind or deaf or whatever, it won’t keep you from doing new challenges, and one of them is skydiving. It gives you a new lease on life.”

Apart from skydiving, he operates his own business, Ken Cary Enterprises, from home, buying and selling things online.

He has two ministries, one in which he meets with and encourages people in prison and another in which he and another person put out a newsletter for prisoners.

Through White Cain Day and National Federation of the Blind events, he encourages other blind people to see the possibilities in life just like he has.

Most of the time he is sharing the videos of him skydiving as well as audio of his skydiving and a solo trip he took to Disney World.

Cary said there are people sitting at home in front of their television who have given up on life, and he is trying to reach those people.

“I thank God every day that I’m blind because it’s put me in a blind world that needs me, and I need them,” he said.

A large picture of him skydiving along with his story is on display in the administrative office building at the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services.

“He is an inspiration to us,” department spokeswoman Erin Moore said.

For his part, Cary just won’t give up.

“Cannot does not register in my brain,” he said. “Only can do and with a can-do attitude, I can make things happen. You never get too old to take a challenge and take a risk.”

 

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