Noted deaf and blind educator Helen Keller once said “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” University of Hartford junior and track team member Chaz Davis
would probably agree. The self-reliant young man from Grafton, Mass. has been dealing for a year and a half with the sudden onset of a disease that is taking away his eyesight. His teammates, roommates, and fellow-student athletes have rallied around him and have helped him stay on track as a student and as an athlete.
Towards the end of his freshman year, Davis was stricken with Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON) that led to deteriorating vision in his right eye. A few months later, the vision in his left eye began to go as well. “Last year, it was tough to adjust to this,” he says. “I did have a ‘Woe is me’ moment, but then I realized the only way to move on was to move on, to keep as much of a sense of normalcy as possible. I always had the mindset to do things for myself. Things won’t get done unless I do them for myself.”
Davis is doing things. He is still on track academically to graduate next year, with a major in criminal justice and a minor in psychology. Rather than heed suggestions to take a semester off to acclimate to his new situation, he found the resources to get his textbooks as audio books—“read by people with real voices instead of just a computerized voices”—and to navigate through recorded notes on his computer.
He has needed help and support for some things and his teammates (who are also roommates) have provided that. To do running outside, he must run with teammates who help him avoid obstacles on the road. “My teammates look out for me,” he says, “Everyone has been so supportive. They want me to succeed.”
Davis sees success as graduating and going on to graduate school—he hopes to get his master’s degree in social work—as well as raising awareness of LHON and making resources more readily available to those affected. “I found the resources through research and talking to people, and I want to pass this information along to the other people who will become affected by this,” he says.
The Student Athlete Advisory Committee put together a “Chaz’s Champions” walk in April to raise money and awareness for LHON. “(Senior track team member) Haley Rice came up with this idea to raise money for this. That really touched me. I was overwhelmed with emotion,” Davis says. “It really made me feel good that I have people here that want to support and help me.”
Awareness is also being raised through a video about Davis that also features Bryan Quitadamo, a senior in the University’s School of Communication and a teammate of Davis. The video was produced by a former high school teammate who is now at Emerson College in Boston. The video was submitted to the “Next Producer” competition by the New England Sports Network (NESN). Click here to watch “Flash: The Chaz Davis Story.”
“I really appreciate all the support, I wouldn’t be able to be successful without it,” Davis says. “It’s what keeps me going. It’s what motivates me.”
Davis is still pursuing his athletic goals. He completed the indoor track season for the Hawks, running a personal best time in the 3,000 meter race in the conference championships. He runs the 5,000 meters race in the outdoor track season and is aiming for the Para-Olympics.