‘It’s really opened up my eyes’: Kayaking, rowing give blind veterans a new lease on life

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BARRINGTON, R .I. (WPRI) ─ For Robert Sanchas and James Killingham, life is now all about listening.

The two veterans are both visually impaired, but their sight isn’t the only thing they lost after leaving the U.S. Military.

Sanchas and Killingham tell 12 News they also lost structure.

“I was in fear after I lost my sight,” Killingham said. “I was scared to do anything.”

“I was falling down stairs, I couldn’t see well at all,” Sanchas recalled. “I just kept falling down stairs and I also locked myself in my room.”

The duo became good friends after the VA Providence suggested they take part in a rowing and kayaking program for veterans in 2016.

“I was like look, either I do something or I sit in here and rot to death. But I don’t want to rot to death,” Sanchas said. “All my life, it was either basketball or football. But rowing … it’s really opened up my eyes.”

The key, according to Killingham, is to listen carefully.

“That’s the one thing I can do, is listen,” Killingham exclaimed.

“It’s you and mother nature, it’s beautiful,” Sanchas continued. “You’re just floating.”

This past May, the pair went to the first-ever Military World Indoor Rowing and Kayaking Championship in Hungary.

They were also a relay team for the blind division in kayaking and together, they brought home a gold medal.

“I almost passed out expecting bronze, and then we get gold. I was like … ‘wait, we won?!'” Sanchas recalled.

That accomplishment alone, according to Sanchas, has helped both of them fill a void.

“We’re doing something with our life still,” he said. “We’re succeeding when we thought it was over … we’ve only just begun. We’ve got a whole new world we’re experiencing.”

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