Have your mind blown by blind skater Dan Mancina
© Wingtip Media
Prepare to be amazed, as we meet up with a skater who lost his vision, but never his passion.
Imagine that one day, at a young age, you're told that something was wrong with your vision. Like a race against time, each day your vision deteriorates a little bit more until one day you wake up and, like that, your sight is gone. That's exactly what happened to Dan Mancina, a skateboarder from Livonia, Michigan, just outside of Detroit.
How does someone skate when they're blind? Simply put, at first, Mancina didn't.
Grappling with the anxiety, fear and depression that accompanied his loss of vision, Mancina set aside his board, thinking that skating was part of his former life. He moved forward, doing everything he thought he should be doing as a blind person, but still felt a huge void.
That all changed one day when Mancina decided to film some random video clips of him doing things that he thought other people would assume blind people couldn't do. One of those clips being of him skateboarding.
He posted the clip, it went viral, and he hasn't put his board down since. This is his story, in his own words.
Tell us where you're from, Dan?
Born and raised in Michigan. I lived in California for a bit right out of high school, but I'm back in 'the Mitten'.
Did you grow up skating around Detroit or more in California?
There's a good scene around here, there's a lot of skaters. I moved from East Detroit to Livonia, where there were way more skaters, and I met a sick group.
When did you start skating?
I was introduced to skating when I was seven, and then when I moved to Livonia is when I met that group of skaters, and that's when I actually started to skate. I was probably right around 12 or 13.
When did all the stuff start happening with your vision?
I found out I had problems when I was 13. I went in for a routine eye exam and the doctor noticed something different, that something was off with my eyes. I got passed around a couple of specialists and got diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa.
The condition didn't affect me until way later in my life, though, until my early-to-mid 20s. That was when I started having a lot of central or functional vision. That's when I lost that.
I then found out I had another disorder on top of Retinitis Pigmentosa, and it deteriorated my vision super-rapidly. In a few years I lost a majority of my sight and I considered myself a blind person.
That's when it started to affect my life. I couldn't leave my house or my block, because I would get lost. I wouldn’t go anywhere without some sort of human guide.
So when you went in at 13 did you have any symptoms at all?
I always had glasses, but I just went for a standard check up, nothing serious. I guess that dude just saw something, like 'something is wrong with your retina', but nothing really serious at the time.
Sometimes, my night vision was off. I would maybe bump into something, but nothing that really affected my life. I didn't think I had any less vision than anyone else.
When you're diagnosed with something like that, is it something that might improve or a case of being told at 13 that you're going to go blind’?
He told me there was no treatment but, as I was so young, that by the time I got older, there would likely be a treatment or cure. Fast forward and I'm now 30 and there's no treatment or cure still, and I've lost 95 percent of my vision.
You said you've lost 95 percent of your vision so explain what can you see.
The best way to describe it is that I can see light perception and shadows and contrast. My vision is in my right peripheral so to see directly in front of me, I have to look off to the side. You'll see that I'm always looking to the left to try to pick up what I can. I can't see any detail. In the park I skate, I can't see the ledges, but I can see the shadow the ledges cast. That's kind of what I go off to give me that cue – like 'Okay, something is there'. When I use my cane, I tap the actual ledge and that gives me reassurance that it’s actually there, and it's time to pop.
When I use my cane, I tap the actual ledge and that gives me reassurance that it’s actually there, and it's time to pop
It's weird, you know. I can't see how tall ledges are, I don't have any depth perception so that's when the cane comes in handy. Just following those little things I can pick up the shadows, the dark to light – that helps guide me to the object or whatever I'm skating, but as far as once I pop, I can't see anything. I'm just moving too fast.
Was there a point where you stopped skating?
I totally stopped skating. There was a point I wouldn't have considered myself a skater in any sense. I might have pushed down the street for transport, but when I lost my vision, I fully just accepted the fact, like 'I guess I don't do that anymore, that's not a part of me'.
I didn’t think I'd be able to get that fulfilment out of it anymore, and there was probably two years when I didn't skate at all. I just accepted that chapter was over, but I kept searching for what a blind person is like, to answer the question 'What does a blind person do?'
Obviously, when you have that much passion for something, and it's gone, there's a huge void. I was lost for a while. I changed my school, worked as a massage therapist, but I just realised that it wasn't where I was supposed to be.
The reason I got back onto my board was because I was filming these random videos you wouldn't expect a blind person to do, like a mini golf hole-in-one or throwing a bullseye in darts. Everyone treated me differently, and had pity and sorrow for me so that was my way to push back and show everyone that I'm not helpless.
Everyone treated me differently, and had pity and sorrow for me so that was my way to push back and show everyone that I’m not helpless
One day I decided to build a bench, just to film a trick – to see if I could skate it. I dusted the board off, filmed a super-sketchy Frontside Boardslide on it, which eventually got shared with the Tony Hawk Foundation and got all this really great feedback. That inspired me to skate a bit more and try a bit more, and slowly, but surely I got back into it.
There wasn't a defining moment that changed my mind as to what a blind person was, but the day I started to build that bench sort of started it, and sparked this passion and stoked this urge to skate again.
Seeing how people responded to that, that's the shit I was searching for. To see me not as a blind person, but as a normal person, a skater.
Ever since I was seven, that's who I was. I am a skateboarder, I just lost it for a while. I bought into people's ideas of me and what a blind person is, and really I should've been searching for who I was and what I wanted to do.
Now it gives me this ability to show people who I am, how I want to be seen, not have pity and sorrow and see that I'm happy.
I want to normalise blindness and just show people what's up!
Can you speak a bit about your goal of helping people build more parks for visually-impaired people?
My new kind of goal I'm working towards is having a skatepark built entirely for the blind, using techniques I use, like tactile things on the ground, audio speakers within objects to help orientate yourself and things hanging from the ceiling that can help let you know where you are.
I would love to have it fully equipped with skateboards and pads to help bring blind people in and introduce them to skateboarding.
One of the biggest allures of skating is the ability to have your own freedom, choose your tricks and your style. I'd love to try to spread that to other blind people, to give them a chance to try that out.