Running Headlong Into Life

Published 5:42 pm Monday, April 5, 2010

At first glance Mytchiko McKenzie – or “Mytchie” as her friendscall her – appears to be just a normal college freshman, with aslender build and a quick smile for those around her.

But McKenzie, 19, a Copiah-Lincoln Community College student, hasalready seen more than most girls her age – even though she’salmost completely blind.

The Pike County resident was adopted by her parents, Richard andRebecca McKenzie, when she was 7 years old, so she said she doesn’tknow the origin of her first name. But she does know that theparents who chose her gave her the tools she needed to conqueranything she puts her mind to.

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“I have very good parents,” she said. “They’re the kind that if youwant to do something, they’re going to help you find a way to doit. And whether you’re good at it or not, no matter what, you’restill going to learn.”

McKenzie has a condition called retinitis pigmentosis that occurredas a result of her being born prematurely, she said.

“If you cover your left eye and put your hand over your peripheralvision on the right side, you’ve got about a 6-inch vision field,”she said. “That’s just about what I can see. I can’t see faces, butI can see your shape, and your hair, and the color of yourface.”

But that hasn’t stopped McKenzie from chasing down the things shewants.

The fearless young woman has grown from a fearless child, who inspite of her limitations learned to not only ride a bicycle, buttake it off a jump ramp. In order to do so, her parentsspraypainted bright orange arrows for her to follow.

“They worried a little, but at the same time, they never told me,‘No, you can’t do that because you can’t see it,'” she said. “Theyeven let me try to play sports, but I figured out myself that wassomething I wasn’t good at. But they pushed me to my limits.”

She now plays the tenor saxophone in the Co-Lin Blue Wave MarchingBand, and has played the clarinet since she was in first-grade. Shesaid she is able to march with the band because the steps arechoreographed, so as long as she stays on her count, and everyoneelse stays on theirs, it works out perfectly each time, and she canleave her walking stick behind.

It was McKenzie’s intrepid spirit that empowered her to compete inthe Trillium Beauty Pageant last fall, a project that many girls inher situation would have avoided.

“Before I walked up on stage, I counted the steps just like I do onthe football field,” she said. “And I made sure that night thateverything was right where it was when we practiced.”

Just like a lot of young women in pageants for the first time,McKenzie said she loved the chance to get dressed up and lookbeautiful for the evening.

“When you look good, you feel good,” said McKenzie, who did notplace among the winners. “Even if you don’t win, do it because youenjoy it. When I look in the mirror, I can’t see myself, but that’sno reason not to look good for other people.”

It’s all a part of the learning process of college, McKenziesaid.

“Most kids don’t realize that you can do things in college that youwant to, that you never reamed of in high school,” she said. “It’snot so much about grades, it’s about new experiences. It’s aboutbeing in the beauty pageant because you want to, and because youcan.”

McKenzie said in the future, she hopes to get her businessassociate’s degree from Co-Lin and go on to major at the next levelin orientation mobility for the vision- and hearing-impaired. Butthat’s not all.

“My long-term goal is to enter the Methodist ministry as anordained elder,” she said. “And I’d like to work as a militarychaplain and use my orientation mobility to help wounded soldiersin addition to my duties as a chaplain.”

Throughout her life so far, McKenzie said she has chosen to see hervision impairment as a blessing rather than a burden. She said, ina way that seems wise beyond her years, that it has helped herlearn, as well as reach out to other people.

“Some people that are visually impaired take that as a bad thingbecause they don’t want to be seen as helpless,” she said. “Andwhat you find is that people want to help you, but they don’t knowhow. It was a challenge for me to learn to ask for help, but if youdon’t ask, it makes things harder on you.”

Mostly, McKenzie said, her message for other people withdisabilities, as well as for those who don’t have them, is thatlike Winston Churchill said, “Failure isn’t fatal, it is thecourage to continue that counts.”

“Just because you can’t do something one way doesn’t mean that youcan’t do it,” she said. “It just means you have to find anotherway.”