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Jim Stevens – Artist

Blindness doesn’t deter dreams

In 1970, while a Sergeant in the Army, I was shot in the head during a combat mission in Vietnam. It left me with bullet fragments in my head and severe migraines. Twenty-three years later, in 1993, the fragments caused a stroke in my visual cortex, leaving me suddenly and legally blind, with only a pin dot of vision remaining in both eyes.

I lost my job teaching at the University of Colorado, my wife left the family, and I was suddenly the blind single parent of two young daughters. I also stopped doing the artwork I had loved so much and wanted to do since I was a child. My father told me no son of his was going to grow up starving in an attic.

In 2000, I determined to reinvent myself and become a full-time artist despite my disability and my father’s earlier admonishments. I began by finding a variety of special lenses to help with my technical skills and then struggled to relearn my craft for the next two years.

At the same time, at the urging of my daughters, I also began the unlikely study of the martial arts.

Despite the setbacks and frustrations, I refused to quit either of my new life goals.

Today, my art is galleried across the country, my work is collected internationally, I have written three books on art published by Schiffer Publishing, and I was recently honored by the Kennedy Center as a Kennedy Center Registered VSA Artist in both the visual and literary arts.

At age 51, I also became the only legally blind man (and oldest man) to ever win the men’s fighting competition at the martial arts “Tournament of Champions”—an event with martial artists of all ages from across the country—and my sensei made sure no one knew I was blind until after the competition was over. I left the tournament with a broken nose, three cracked ribs, a torn rotator cuff, a dislocated knee – and the first place trophy as Tournament Champion.

I am also the only blind martial artist to ever be awarded a black belt in Shaolin Kenpo karate. I have since also been awarded a black belt in Taekwondo karate.

Whenever I felt overwhelmed by the challenges in front of me, my youngest daughter would softly remind me, ‘Daddy, you promised not to quit.’ That little reminder was always enough to make me stiffen my backbone and keep moving forward with my life.

I lost my eyesight in just 30 minutes. My career, my wife, my future, and my self-worth soon followed. I finally had to accept being blind, but once I did, I also accepted the fact that to have a life, I would have to reinvent it.

Today, I have a new successful career as an award-winning, internationally collected artist and author.

Three-time Emmy award winning screenwriter Paul Cooper found out about me and is working on a screenplay about my life. In his words, ‘It’s a story that needs to be told.’

To learn more about Jim and his art , visit him here.

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