Braille Monitor               December 2023

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O'Rourke Completes 6-week Fundraising Bike Ride for Blind

by Amalie Benjamin

Reprinted with permission from NHL.com, September 08, 2023

Dan O’Rourke smiles as he holds his NFB member coin.Through all the weeks that Dan O’Rourke spent on his bike—six, to be exact—all the road rash and flat tires, the broken fan belt on his RV, the searing temperatures and the early mornings, the longer-than-planned stopover in Joplin, Missouri, there have been so many victories: the people he has met along the way, the stories he has heard, the word he has spread, the money he has raised.

But it’s possible that nothing compares to the news the longtime NHL referee received recently from his dad, the reason he got on his bike in the first place for a 2,500-mile ride along Route 66 from Santa Monica, California, to Chicago, raising money for the National Federation of the Blind.

“He’s decided to take the challenge on of learning Braille, at 75 years old,” said O’Rourke, who has been an official in the NHL since 1999 and who will report to officials training camp Sunday. “If that’s all that came of this, then it was worth it.”

O’Rourke’s father, Tom, and his grandfather both suffered vision loss, with his father diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare eye disease that affects the retina, breaking it down slowly over time and causing blindness. The belief is that his grandfather also had the same disease, though O’Rourke never met him.

Part of the reason that O’Rourke, fifty, set out on his journey on July 27 was to raise money for the NFB’s BELL (Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning) Academy, a summer program of Braille and nonvisual skills that helps low-vision children with the skills and confidence to live independent lives. At last tally, a week or so ago, O’Rourke had raised $46,000 and was hoping for more to continue coming in to support an organization that is near and dear to his heart.

Because he knows what it’s like to try to live without some of those skills. His father never learned Braille and never wanted to use a cane, denial taking hold of him. Tom was injured just before O’Rourke set out July 27, falling down the stairs, shattering his elbow, breaking his shoulder, and sustaining a concussion.

That, plus the ride, may have been the push Tom needed to take the next step.

“I may even talk him into trying to get certified in it, so he can help other people,” O’Rourke said. “It’s just kind of a neat part of the story—a huge reason behind this is the fact that he never did learn Braille or learn how to use his cane properly. Now he reached out to the CNIB [Foundation] in Canada, and he’s trying to get the starter kit for Braille.”

“That, to me, has been one of the real silver linings of it is that he’s decided to do that.”
Tom has told everyone he can find about the ride, about what his son is doing, struggling to get through the story without tearing up, bursting with pride.

It’s how O’Rourke has felt too.

“It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve done, that me and my wife have done, aside from our kids,” he said.

Along the way from California to Illinois were meet-and-greets, a “Dan O’Rourke Day” in Springfield, Missouri, that came as a complete surprise, social media check-ins, and a few missteps, including a fall outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma, that shredded his shorts enough that “my left butt cheek is hanging out,” O’Rourke said, laughing. “I kind of crashed and burned there.”

It took almost two days to get all the asphalt out of the cuts.
But he made it, ahead of schedule.

O’Rourke crossed the finish line Wednesday, pulling up to a little street sign in downtown Chicago that marks the end of Route 66 around 3 p.m., enjoying a moment alone and taking some pictures.

There will be a more formal event on Friday with some vendors and an appearance by the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, given to the Western Conference champion, which will be available to be touched by low-vision and blind people, “where they can put their hands on it and experience it that way,” O’Rourke said.

And this may not be the last time O’Rourke gets on his bike for a cause. He and his wife, April, are already kicking around ideas for the next time.

“It’s just been an amazing journey,” O’Rourke said. “It was very weird today to get up and not have to get on my bike and get going."

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