Ken Stewart, 52, of Sumpter Township thought he’d try competing in the Senior Olympics this year just for the challenge, to see if he could do it.
Senior Coordinator Denise Droulliard had been encouraging him to try.
Stewart has been totally blind for about five years and so he was hesitant.
“I didn’t know if I could do it,” he recalls. “But, I thought I could do it.”
He ended up winning one gold and two silver medals and becoming a media darling. He was recognized by the mayor of Dearborn at the awards banquet, followed by much applause, and couldn’t even eat his lunch because people kept coming by to shake his hand. He also was featured by Channel 4 television.
“I wasn’t expecting all of this,” he said. “It was an enjoyable week. I’ll never forget it.”
He said he thinks he’ll participate next year, too.
“I want to try to get people with disabilities at the center to come next year. They were very impressed to see me on TV,” he said.
“I’m glad I can put Sumpter Community Center on the map,” he said.
Stewart won a gold medal in horseshoes and silver medals in soccer kick and bowling.
“I never tossed horseshoes or kicked a soccer ball,” he said. “I started bowling when I went to blind school.”
He referred to his time at the Michigan Commission for the Blind in Kalamazoo where he was taught independent living.
He said he did some bowling at Lodge Lanes since then.
Stewart said for the horseshoes competition in Garden City, Mary Ann Watson the senior bus driver was “my excellent guide.”
He said he was missing the whole box with his horseshoe tosses and she told him to try over to his right a little.
He got three ringers.
“The guy I was playing was a professional,” Stewart said. “He brought his own horseshoes. He was so impressed he came over to shake my hand.”
With the bowling (which did not use bumpers), he said he had some guidance with his friend Dottie spotting the pins, telling him where the standing pins were. That competition was in Wayne and he was impressed that some of the contestants brought their own bowling balls.
As to the soccer kick, they set the ball down at a line, he felt where it was, and then they told him to kick and he did.
“I’m a pretty calm and collected guy, but this was exciting.”
It was 2002 when the hereditary blindness started setting in, Stewart said. He said it’s called retinitis pigmentosa, which had blinded his grandfather’s left eye. The doctor said it skipped a generation, but they are wondering about that since his mother Betty Stewart is starting to have blurry vision, too.
Ken was helping his father, Sydney Stewart as a leader in his janitorial cleaning franchise, Jani King, when his eyesight started going. Sydney couldn’t run the service without him and sold the franchise.
Stewart said gradually things started getting blurry, he missed steps and fell. He was driving and while making a left turn, everything went blurry and he hit a car.
His sight came back and then it got blurry, getting progressively worse. Now, all he can see is bright light and he must wear his “shades” around fluorescent lights inside and sunshine outside because the light causes throbbing in his eyes followed by headaches.
Stewart is proud to be independent. He learned the layout of the community center in just a few days. He does shopping on his own (with the help of customer service) after the van takes seniors shopping.
He crosses Sumpter Road from the community center to the municipal building, listening for the traffic before stepping into the roadway. He goes out to the mailbox next door to the community center without aid to mail letters. But, he needs a guide if he’s in an unfamiliar place.
Stewart lives with his parents on Karr Road and his mother said she sometimes forgets he’s blind and tells him to turn on the light if she finds him cooking in the dark.
“The darkness is my friend,” he said.
Sometimes, she’ll be watching TV and say to her son, “Did you see that?” He had normal eyesight for so long, it’s easy to forget, she said.
Senior Coordinator Droulliard said Sumpter can be proud of all the participants in the recent Western Wayne County Senior Olympics. The following Sumpter residents also won medals (in alphabetical order):
* Pauline Armatis – gold and bronze in bocce ball, bronze in cookie baking, and bronze in pies;
* Debra Busch – gold and silver in photography, in two — categories Scenery and People;
* Annie Collins – gold in cake baking;
* Gary Krajewski – silver in 10-mile bike race;
* Kathy Krajewski – gold in 5-mile bike race, silver in 5K run;
* Amanda Massey – bronze in bocce ball;
* Frances Quiney – silver in Frisbee;
* Margaret Rochon – bronze in Frisbee;
* Jenny Stevens – bronze in bowling;
* Paulette Thompson – bronze in bowling.