It’s a common refrain that people will often embrace any excuse to avoid exercise, ranging from a “painful paper cut” to a “can’t miss” episode of television’s Shark Tank. However, Gene Hetzer, Jr., doesn’t let anything stop him from his workouts at the PJCC, including the fact that he’s vision impaired.
The 63-year-old is on the treadmill at least twice a week with his guide dog, a Golden Retriever named Lynmar, waiting patiently at his side. Blind since birth, Gene lost his vision due to oxygen toxicity, a condition resulting from the harmful effects of elevated molecular oxygen that
burned his retinas. “In those days, if doctors thought there might be a problem right after delivery, such as illness or being premature, they placed the baby in an incubator,” Gene
explains. “I was born healthy, but the exposure to excess oxygen left me blind.” As a result, Gene can distinguish bright lights from total darkness but cannot see shapes or forms.
The Foster City resident, who joined the Center last year, has found the PJCC to be a pleasant surprise. “I’ve been very impressed,” he says. “One of the trainers, Herman Chan, helped show me how to use the equipment and arranged it so the pieces I’d use the most would be close to each other. Thanks to him, I can go through my routines without asking for help.” Gene’s favorite exercise is an aerobic workout on the treadmill, which is helping him reach his goal of completing a 10k run in under 75 minutes.
Seven-year-old Lynmar also helps Gene navigate his way through the fitness facility. “Often people try to help by pointing out that I’m going the wrong way or taking a longer route, but they don’t realize that Lynmar has noticed obstacles on the floor that they might not see, like mats or weights. My dog is trained to recognize all hazards even when people might not see them as such.”
When he isn’t working out, the retired IT consultant plays the piano and has made several CDs for friends. He also enjoys classical music and reading religious fiction, historical novels, and classic “whodunit” mysteries like Perry Mason and Sherlock Holmes. Online, he navigates the
Internet with the aid of a screen reader, a software program that allows visually impaired users to read the text that is displayed on the screen with the use of a speech synthesizer.
Gene’s positive attitude is one worth emulating.
“When something lousy happens, you can turn to your neighborhood pub to ease the pain, but that’s a temporary solution,” he says. “Or you can take a look at the cards you’ve been dealt and figure out the best way to make something of them. That’s what I do.”