Reinvention | A Letter to the Editor from Jim Stevens

Recently, we received a Letter to the Editor, from Jim Stevens, a reader who is an accomplished artist and legally blind. I found it incredibly moving, and so I’d like to share it here with you:

Legally blind artist and sculptor Jim Stevens

Dear Artist’s Magazine,
In this day of tough times, lost jobs, and people needing to reinvent themselves I wonder if my story might help others find the courage to face the hard changes in their lives and understand that reinventing yourself can be tough, but it can also lead to a new and successful future.

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 permanent severe migraines. Twenty-three years later, in 1993, the fragments caused a stroke in my visual cortex, leaving me suddenly and legally blind.

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 as a hobby.

In 2000, after years of feeling useless, I determined to reinvent myself and become a full-time artist despite my disability. 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.

Stevens uses a unique visual lense that helps him create art.

At the same time, at the urging of my daughters, I also began the unlikely study of the martial arts. The physical and mental setbacks and frustrations were crushing at times, but I refused to quit either 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 last year I was honored by the Kennedy Center as a Kennedy Center Registered VSA Artist in both the visual and literary arts.

An example of the scrimshaw work that Stevens creates. This scrimshaw art on mammoth ivory won First Place in a juried competition.

I also became the only legally blind man to ever win the men’s fighting competition at the martial arts “Tournament of Champions” –an event with martial artists 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 rotater 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 my life. Today, I am an award-winning, internationally collected artist, martial artist, and author.

Three-time Emmy award winning screenwriter Paul Cooper found out about me and has just finished writing a screenplay about my life. In his words, “It’s a story that needs to be told.”

I would be glad to answer any questions if you think my story may help others find the courage to overcome the hardships of reinventing their own lives.

Best wishes,
Jim Stevens

PS:
Despite my accomplishments, I am still occasionally reminded that I am blind. I recently tried to fix a small problem on the roof on my home but fell off and caused a tear my abdominal wall. At the hospital, the surgeon looked at me and said, “Jim, you’re blind. We don’t want you on the roof.”

Dear Jim,
Thank you, sincerely, for persevering and for sharing your beautiful story. We wish you all the best.
Yours,
Cherie

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