Why I Am A Federationist
(Editor's Note: Presentations at our 2017 semiannual convention this year included a panel entitled "The Power Of Our Stories". The following is taken from the remarks Randi Strunk made as part of that panel.)
I grew up in rural Nebraska, and what you do there is you play sports. So I joined the basketball team during my freshman year of high school. I went to every practice, worked hard and traveled to every game, and I sat on the bench every game. There was one time I got in with about 15 seconds left. We were losing, and it was one of the last games of the year. I was discouraged. What was all this work for? Maybe I just wasn't cut out for sports.
Fast forward ahead to my freshman year of college. I was going to a lecture in a night class, walking in the rain. I couldn't really see anything because it was dark, and I didn't use a cane. I thought, "there's got to be a better way. I don't know what it is, but I don't like the way I feel right now."
Later that semester, I went to a college workshop put on by the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and the Nebraska Association of Blind Students. It was there that I started to see what I wanted for myself. Blind students were traveling independently, going to college and taking notes independently. The keynote speaker there was a blind lawyer who graduated from Yale. And I thought, "this is it, I'm beginning to find the things I want for my life." And so I went home and literally read every Braille Monitor article that person wrote.
I moved to Lincoln, and for the first time I had a local chapter of the NFB and the student division to be involved in. I really didn't jump into the Federation with both feet until the summer of 2003. Now, it is important to the story to say that Ryan and I had started dating by then. In the summer of 2003, we decided that we were going to work for the NFB Corps. The NFB Corps was a program where people went around to different states and started new chapters of the Federation or strengthened chapters that already existed. Ryan and I were smart—we were going to spend the summer together, we were going to get paid to travel around the country, and all we had to do was organize chapters of the NFB.
Dr. Maurer was smarter, however, because I found myself on a plane headed to Illinois with Kimberly Aguillard, and Ryan was on a plane to Vermont with Yolanda Garcia. I was mad. This is not what I had signed up for. I tell you, looking back on it, the six weeks in Illinois were some of the best in my life. Not only did I gain one of my best friends in the world, Kimberly, who was later in my wedding, but I didn't have Ryan to rely on. I had to figure out things for myself, because I was recruiting people to this Federation and had to explain why it was important to me. I had to stand on my own two feet and learn to be a leader on my own, and learn to confidently talk to people about blindness and about why the Federation is so great. The skills that I learned through the student division and NFB Corps are great opportunities that we have in the Federation. For me, I didn't have those opportunities until I found this organization. We have so many groups, committees and divisions in the NFB that there's more than likely one thing that you will be interested in—whether it is a hobby or your career. I encourage you to get involved and experience that leadership for yourself.
We have such a great network here. I've moved to three different states after college. First we moved to Hawaii and we didn't have any biological family there, but the minute we landed, we had Katy Keim, Virgil Stennitt, and Brook Sexton, members of our Federation family, to welcome us there with open arms. We moved to Texas, and we had Angela Wolfe and Kimberly Aguillard there to welcome us. And then we moved to Minnesota and we had all of you who brought us into your Minnesota Federation family. I think that's so special, like you guys have given me the confidence to not be the kid who was scared walking in the rain to class.
I've taken up triathlon as a hobby. That's kind of a 180 for me, from sitting on the bench of a basketball team. I recently did a half-iron man in Texas. That's 70.3 miles combined swim, bike, and run. Because of you guys and the confidence and the skills I have gained as part of this Federation—that's why I'm able to do something like that. That is why I am a Federationist.