Disability won’t stop sophomore from losing sight of goals


by David Morain

Think of the toughest athlete in the world. Who comes to mind? Is it Kirk Gibson, who hit a game-winning home run in the 1988 World Series despite a leg that wouldn’t let him run? Is it Michael Jordan, who poured in 38 points in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Championships despite a flu that wouldn’t let him breathe? Is it Ronnie Lott, who had the tip of his injured pinky finger cut off so he could return to the game and help the 49ers beat the Cowboys?

Or is it Kristin Mills, who uses a treadmill despite a retinal disease that won’t let her see?

Mills, a sophomore, lives life like any normal college student. She goes to the same classes, does the same homework and uses the weight room and fitness center, all without the use of sight.

“I try and get in [the weight room] about two or three times a week,” said Mills, adding with a giggle, “but I’d like to get in more often.”

When she was seven years old, Mills was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, or RP. Think of the eye like a camera with the retina being the film on which the lens focuses light. In Mills’ case, her camera skews the light to the point where she has lost all peripheral vision, which allows her a very small viewing area, and even then her vision is extremely poor.

“When I’m looking at you,” said Mills, “I can’t really see you. I can see an outline. I can tell that you’re there, but I can’t make out any details.”

This is what makes her tri-weekly trip to the weight room so amazing. “When I’m on [the treadmill], I have no idea how far I go. I thought last year’s treadmills were nicer. It was a lot better because the numbers on the screen were white against black, so I could at least tell how long I was going. Now, I know that I’m gone for about an hour, so I just figure I’m on there for about 20 to 30 minutes.”

Not being able to see has never stopped Mills from participating in athletics before. At her high school in Ankeny, when it came time to participate in P.E., she would always find some way to involve herself.

“If our P.E. was ever too visual, I’d always find something else. Our high school was attached to the YMCA, so that was nice. I could always walk or use one of the [stationary] bikes.”

After graduating from high school, Mills said the choice to come to Simpson was easy.

“The size is nice, and the people here are really awesome,” she said. “Even in the weight room, everyone is really helpful.”

Still, everyday is a challenge. Using her cane to help her walk, Mills allows an extra 15 minutes in case of things like rain, snow, or heavy traffic just to get to class on time. Once there, she types her notes using a specialized word processor. She said that Pfeiffer is usually her biggest challenge of the day.

“It’s not like other cafeterias because there aren’t any real lines,” she said. “It makes it awfully difficult.”

Nothing is ever easy for Mills – not a day goes by where she has to overcome things we all take for granted. With all she has to put up with, the trials she faces on a daily basis, how she goes out of her way just to live a normal life, one has to wonder why she keeps making time to go back to the weight room.

“I go because health is important to me,” said Kristin. “I like being healthy and I like being in shape. I don’t ever think about how hard something is, I just do it.”

And so she goes about her days, living in a world of darkness while the rest of us get to open our eyes every morning without giving it so much as a second thought. When asked what she would want to do if she could see for one day, Mills took her time to respond. After all, it would have to be something she would remember for the rest her life. All the things we see on a regular basis – the rich colors of the sky, the grass and the way the sun kisses off the buildings just before sunset. It seems such a simple question, but honestly, what would you want to do if you were in her shoes?

The answer: “I would like to see all my friends’ faces.”