Jed Jackson won the Pau National. The Pau is an extreme long-distance race. While a new competitor claims the prize each year, Jed Jackson’s win in 1980 was unusual and amazing in that he raised and trained his birds without seeing them. Jed Jackson was a blind fancier. During an interview I found on you tube, that Keith Mott conducted in 1984, with Jed and his wife; along with his guide dog. Jed spoke to the camera while a pigeon sat serenely on his shoulder. He excitedly talked of his love of the sport, saying that the pigeons had been the saving grace of his blind life. Jed had a modest loft which he built himself. What an incredible work of dedication his career must have been.
Jed embraced his world. Using his hands as his eyes, learning the feel and sound of each member of his loft. Jed was the ultimate racer, his love of the sport so deep that had he been offered, three minutes of sight he would have used it to see his birds come in from a race. “To see a pigeon, close its wings as it is plummeting for the board, after a fourteen- or fifteen-hour flight is a marvelous sight”.
I watched the interview wondering what I would want to see if I had only three minutes to see. It led me to ask one of Freedom Guide Dogs graduates, his response was a surprise.
Tom received his first Guide dog in the early nineties, since then he has been paired with three more. The most recent Dog, Zep was teamed with Tom this year. They have become fast friends and navigate the city of Rochester NY in happy partnership. We spoke with Tom and asked him the question that had been posed by Jed Jackson. What would you choose to see if you had three minutes of sight?
Tom’s response was simple and complex in turn, “I’m not sure how to answer that, I don’t know what seeing is?” “But if I had to choose something, it would be something that probably wouldn’t be appropriate for your article.”
We laughed with Tom, but the reality of his answer exposes the true degree of variation in the blind community. Unlike Jed Jackson, whom could reach back to his sighted memories and picture in his minds eye the beauty of pigeons as their strong bodies dive from above to win the race. Tom has no such memories, his hands have always been his eyes, until He was paired with a guide dog. Now while his hands still function as his eyes, they no longer bear the burden alone. Zep takes on some of that burden as they move about the city streets.
I am reminded that the gift of seeing our birds as we enter this new racing season, is not one that everyone has. In the words of Jed Jackson, “… seeing a pigeon as it plummets toward the board after a fourteen- or fifteen-hour flight is a marvelous sight”.
Kelly Jo Stone
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