by Tom Zillich/Special to the Langley Advance
An event at Holland Park in Surrey this month aims to give people a sense of what it’s like to be in the shoes of Langley business owner Cherise McGee and others living with visual impairment.
The CNIB Night Steps 5K fundraising walk is held “under the stars” on the evening of Saturday, Sept. 26.
Last year, the event was held in Abbotsford, and McGee was there with her family to enjoy live music, a barbecue and other attractions.
“It was really great, a fun night,” McGee said.
McGee has a rare eye condition called achromatopsia, which leads to low vision, severe sensitivity to light and the inability to perceive colour.
Essentially, she sees the world in black, white and shades of grey, but that hasn’t stopped McGee from leading an active, entrepreneurial life.
The 34-year-old mother of three volunteers with CNIB to build awareness and raise funds in support of vision rehabilitation services for people living with blindness or partial sight. She also runs Chylan Emergency Gear Inc., a Langley-based business, with husband Dylan Okeymow.
Together, the couple recently did another Tough Mudder obstacle race in Whistler.
“In some ways I overcompensate,” Cherise said of her supposed disability, “but I think my whole family is better off keeping busy and jumping into every opportunity we can to challenge ourselves.”
Because McGee’s eye condition is rare, it took some time for doctors to diagnose her when she was a kid.
“It was exasperating in the beginning because no one was listening to me about what I needed. But, by the time I was 14, I found my voice and started to self-advocate.”
School was a challenge.
“I couldn’t see the blackboard, which put me behind in math and spelling,” McGee recalled.
“Learning to self-advocate was necessary to my academic success, but it’s hard to be perceived as different. I spent a long time pretending that I didn’t have special needs in order to fit in, and to this day I regret doing that.”
With the help of CNIB, she began using an optical device called a monocular, which allows her to see what others can up to 100 feet away, and she also makes use of accessible technologies like the iPhone. CNIB helped McGee obtain funding to offset some of the costs associated with acquiring assistive devices, and she credits this assistance for completing her post-secondary education and starting her own business.
Her next aspiration is to mentor teens with disabilities.
“I know what it’s like to feel lost at that age,” McGee said, “but I also know from first-hand experience that it’s possible to overcome the challenges of having a disability: set and achieve goals.”
For CNIB Night Steps in Surrey, McGee has formed a 15-member “Chylan” team to raise funds for a cause close to her heart.
“How we experience life comes down to choice,” she said. “I live by the rule that it’s my choice to wake up and feel sorry for myself or not, and I choose happiness.”
Registration for CNIB Night Steps begins at 4 p.m. Sept. 26. To get involved as an individual or team, visit the event website, Cnibnightsteps.ca, or call 1-844-810-5408.
– Tom Zillich is a reporter at Black Press’ Surrey Now.