After being diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease, skateboarder Justin Bishop gradually lost much of his vision in his mid-20s.
Skateboarder Justin Bishop was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa (RP) in his mid-20s. This disorder causes damage to specific cells in the eye over time and is inherited, affecting around 1 in 1,400 people in the United States, according to the National Eye Institute (NEI). People with RP may experience difficulty navigating in the dark, increased clumsiness, severe sensitivity to light and an increasingly restricted visual field. However, the symptoms vary depending on the type of RP.
For Bishop, the symptoms started with a loss of central vision, causing everything to become blurry and shadowy in just one week at the age of 25. It was a tough time emotionally, but Bishop's dad encouraged him to get up and figure out his life again. "I had this pretty bad progression where a lot of my central vision left, things just became blurbs and shadows," Bishop said of the progression of his condition.
According to TODAY, Bishop began orientation and mobility training to become more comfortable using a cane and build his confidence. Although leaving the house was scary for him, he eventually got back to his favorite sport.
Initially, Bishop avoided skateboarding because he thought his blindness would limit him, but he missed the sport so much that he decided to give it another try. "My own definition of what blind people could do was limiting," he explained. "I loved skateboarding with all my heart and I just didn't want it to hurt my feelings again. So I actually avoided skateboarding for a while."
It was challenging, but he gradually became familiar with adaptive tools that helped him perform the tricks he loved. For instance, he uses an audible marker that plays a noise he can hear to give him a 2-foot radius of where to aim. He also uses canes with different tips, including one that rolls along with him while on his skateboard.
Being visually impaired means working harder than the average person just to get around, Bishop shared. However, he believes that if people with RP can work hard for everyday tasks, they can also work hard in the sports or passions they love. Bishop is now one of about 40 elite adaptive skaters in the country and won first place in a national skateboarding competition in 2021. He hopes to get adaptive skateboarding into the Paralympics in 2028.
Bishop's story is one of perseverance and determination. Despite facing a challenging degenerative eye disease, he refused to give up on his passion for skateboarding. With the help of adaptive tools and his own grit, Bishop has become one of the top adaptive skaters in the country and a symbol of hope for others facing similar challenges.