OUR WORLD: Collective Vision

Corey Perrine/Staff 
 From left, Kris Scheppe, Lee Gates, Bill Meisner and Don Werth laugh while training at Sugden Regional Park June 29, 2012 in Naples. The quad are training to compete in the 2012 Sail Newport Blind National Championship in Rhode Island in Sept. Two able-bodied and two blind teammates will fleet race against other P22 sailboats.

Photo by COREY PERRINE, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

Corey Perrine/Staff From left, Kris Scheppe, Lee Gates, Bill Meisner and Don Werth laugh while training at Sugden Regional Park June 29, 2012 in Naples. The quad are training to compete in the 2012 Sail Newport Blind National Championship in Rhode Island in Sept. Two able-bodied and two blind teammates will fleet race against other P22 sailboats.

Kris Scheppe's passion for aquatic competition was ignited in 2005 when he organized the first sailing team at Florida Gulf Coast University. Unfortunately, he graduated a season before the team was ready for competition.

Still hungry for an opportunity to compete, Scheppe, left, now 32, remained hopeful.

"I've been wanting to put a (sailing) team together for a while when I moved here," Scheppe said. "As a person, I'm very competitive. I've always been involved in sports: wrestling, running, power lifting."

Despite the fact he can barely see, Scheppe has an active lifestyle. He was born with retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease that causes blindness over time. This degeneration has never afflicted his good nature or stopped him from ana ctive life, despite his having only a 10-15 degree peripheral vision. He's an accomplished Internet and technology business owner and an Eagle Scout who graduated cum laude and makes friends easily.

One of those friends, Bill Meisner, center right, caught wind of Scheppe's ambition to form a team and helped bring aboard Lee Gates, center left, and Don Werth, right, who shares the same disease as Scheppe. The team is training for the 2012 Sail Newport Blind National Championship in September in Rhode Island. Teams consist of two able-bodied sailors and two impaired.

"I cannot see the jib sheet anymore," Werth said. "So I have to listen for it by listening to it luffing. I can do everything I did before — it just takes longer."

Unlike Scheppe, Werth began losing his vision in the mid-1980s, but was able to operate a car up until three years ago. Despite his loss of vision, Werth feels he has strengthened other abilities: "My memory is much better. I know where everything is in my house," he said with a smile.

Pulleys, colored ropes and a shroud of sails dwarfed the crew as the sound of wind danced around their ears and tussled their hair on a recent weekend out. Meisner called out commands and the crew responded like clockwork. Jokes were exchanged during quiet moments on the 60-acre lake at Sugden Regional Park. Constantly correcting the small P15 sailboat takes practice, despite a lifetime of experience among the four.

"I never let (retinitis pigmentosa) stop me from doing anything," Scheppe said. "It's just another part of life, who I am."

© 2012 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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