Find a way to be active

By Gaylen Floy | Newsline, March 2013

Back in January, Maida Pojtinger took up the challenge to line up guest speakers for South King Council of the Blind. A few days later an email slid into my inbox: Maida invited a former Paralympian to speak at our February chapter meeting.

There are certain things you notice right away about Joseph Raineri: a formidable sense of humor, a strong handshake, and he is wearing a tie on a Saturday morning. Not just any tie. This tie sports an eye chart that gets blurrier the smaller the letters become. Bazinga.

Joseph runs his own private practice in Bellevue as a licensed mental health care counselor. He is also a proud grandfather planning for his 20th marathon. Growing up in Santa Clara, California, he lived for sports and was surrounded by young athletes the caliber of Mark Spitz. At age 13, Joseph woke up one morning and noticed a change in his vision. His parents took him to the eye doctor who diagnosed him with Retinitis Pigmentosa (gradual and permanent vision loss). The doctor told him not to have kids and to plan on a good job at a broom factory. Being 13, Joseph blew off this dismal news and headed straight to basketball practice. Rather than pursuing the enticing broom factory career, Joseph earned a Bachelor's in Spanish at San Diego State and a Master's in Counseling at Seattle University.

Two skiers smiling
If interested in Ski for Light, talk with
Deng Kong, president
of the local chapter.

One day in early adulthood, his vision took a significant nosedive. "Remember how Corelle® was advertised to be unbreakable? Well, if you throw hard enough it shatters." Joseph broke every plate, dish, and cup in the apartment. He even busted the bathroom mirror. That felt great for the moment, but clean up was a pain. He and his roommate had to replace everything. That is when he took up long-distance running to deal with the pent-up energy and frustration.

"There is such a feeling of freedom when swimming and running," he said. His first marathon was in 1976.

In 1982, he and a friend signed up for the Iron Man Triathlons in Hawaii. His dad went along and kidded, "You do realize these competitors are highly-conditioned athletes: you two sit around and drink beer at night." All went well until his friend's bike had two flat tires. Joseph had to run on his own after sunset. Spectators ran with him for short stretches along the way to guide. Finally his dad showed up with the rental car and he was able to follow the taillights to the finish line.

Joseph began cross-country skiing with the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes (USABA). Then he skied ten years on the U.S. Disabled Ski Team (part of the U.S. Ski Team). Joseph competed and medaled in the 1984, 1988, and 1992 Paralympics doing 10k and 30k cross-country ski events, but has participated in all kinds of sports.

He recounted one misadventure while preparing for a race that involved horses. “Most people take precautions before running in the great outdoors, right?” He and his teammate did not figure on the horse getting worn out in the middle of a day trek. Joseph offered to run back to the truck to get food, water, and something to keep warm. He got very lost in the Southern California canyons. The temperature dropped as the sun went down. Exhausted and feeling hypothermia setting in, he dug a hole, covered himself with dirt, and waited. Finally he heard a helicopter. He jumped out of the hole waving his arms, and was rescued.

Now Joseph runs a fitness boot camp on Mercer Island three days a week beginning at 6 a.m. "I firmly believe in giving back to the community through volunteer work and speaking." He encourages people with vision loss to find a way to be active. He recommends conditioning using a treadmill or stationary bike. “Especially with balance issues on the treadmill, you may need to hold onto the bars.” One of our chapter members asked, "How do you stay in the lane when swimming in a race?" A piece of surgical tubing keeps him connected to a sighted swimmer. This works well as long as both people swim the same pace.

Joseph was pleased to learn Ski for Light is active in Western Washington. Joy Iverson plans to have him as a guest speaker at the Orientation and Training Center in Seattle. Wouldn't it be cool to have a fitness workshop at our state convention?