Crossing the finish line

Joel+Senteno+and+CEO+of+BLINDSTART+Brian+Tom+discussing+the+agenda+for+the+weekly+practice.

Kristopher Carrasco

Joel Senteno and CEO of BLINDSTART Brian Tom discussing the agenda for the weekly practice.

Kristopher Carrasco, Campus Life Editor

From the difficulties of classes that you simply just hate, to the groggy feeling you get from staying up late studying, school is a huge obstacle.

For Joel Centeno, science in rehabilitation major, obstacles are one thing he isn’t afraid to overcome, considering he’s going to Australia in March of 2016 to represent the United States in the Dragon Boat Racing World Championship.

Dragon Boat Racing is a 20-person team water sport in which paddlers sit side-by-side and use their combination of technique and strength to race against other teams.

What makes the 41-year-old father of three and his team so unique? His whole team is blind or legally blind, including himself.

“I like dragon boat racing. You race from 250 meters to up to 1,000 meters. In the Guts and Glory race, you race 1,000 meters back and forth. When you hit 500 you need to turn and when your turning on a boat, it becomes very difficult and fun. It can get a little bit dangerous because you can actually crash,” Centeno said.

Prior to his journey to Cerritos College, Centeno worked at the Southern California Rehab Services, a state branch in which people with disabilities can get the help they need to be independent, he learned the ropes of the trade and eventually became a manager.

At that time, not only was his vision getting worse, but state budgets were getting cut.

Due to these cuts and lack of a college degree, Centeno was let go.

After being urged to go to school and obtain a degree, he started at Cerritos College through the disabled student program.

The Cerritos College DSPS helps students with any services they may need to accommodate their needs in school such as note taking or different formatted books.

Judi Holmes, Centeno’s disability specialist, said. “He [Joel] is delightful! He has such a charismatic personality and we’ve known each other for a very long time. I used to refer people to him when he worked professionally in the area,”

“He invites all of us whenever it’s local for us to come and see him. He also does the mud runs. I mean, here he is with a visual impairment running through the mud. We’re very proud of him,” Holmes added.

The program has been beneficial for Centeno through his journey at Cerritos College.

“The DSPS office? They’re the best. Since I’ve gotten here, they’ve just been very helpful. They have a passion for what they do as well. They’ve helped with registration, test taking, the assistant devices for reading were provided. From note taking to projects, they’ve just been wonderful,” Centeno said.

Centeno is not only a blind aspiring student, but he is also extremely athletic.

When he practiced with the BLINDSTART organization’s dragon boat racing team five years ago, he never once thought he would be traveling across the world to compete for a world championship title.

The BLINDSTART of America organization is an organization that Centeno networked with that helps the visually impaired come together through athletic and social events.

The team started out as a local recreational team that would participate in festival races, but after the additions of more coaches and team members, the team has become a year round competitive team as of 2014.

“This year we went to Canada where we got second place. This was unheard of as a first year team,” Centeno said.

“Everyone was crying, tears of joy and white canes were flying in the air … I can’t believe we actually made it to represent the United States in Australia,” Centeno added.

He does not let his disability define him, but instead realizes that with the help of his peers, his blindness is just another obstacle he has overcome.

Through a mutual friend, Centeno met CEO of the BLINDSTART organization, Brian Tom.

Just like the goals of Centeno, Brian Tom shares the same goal in helping the visually impaired with resources that will enable them to lead independent lives through BLINDSTART.

Tom started the organization about seven years ago as a way to give back to the blind community that helped him when he lost his sight.

Since then, BLINDSTART has been going strong and hosts many charitable events and Centeno has participated in.

“Our message is ‘Helping the blind cross finish lines,’” Tom said.

“Joel Centeno, that’s a.k.a. Spartan. He’s my bench mate … we met and we shared similar life styles, we just connected and we’ve crossed many finish lines together. He’s really taken it to the maximum level. The confidence from crossing a new finish line trans into a every part of a person’s life, we take that confidence in school and work and to family life to keep challenging our selves, my personal philosophy is no excuses,”

Centeno has crossed many finish lines and truly feels that anybody is capable of accomplishing anything, as long as they have the will to do so.

He will be crossing a new finish line this spring as he will be finishing his final semester at Cerritos College.

He will be transferring to California State University Los Angeles to finish his degree and finally give back to the community once again.

His 20-man dragon boat racing team is all blind, but that does not put them at a disadvantage while they’re paddling their hearts out.

“We just cross finish lines. We don’t need to see them. For us, that’s probably an advantage… we don’t even worry about the finish line or where it’s at, we just keep on going,” Centeno said.

His journey is one he hopes will inspire everyone including his three children.

He participates in athletic races with his kids and looks forward to doing more events in the future.

The daily life of school, his workouts, his dragon boat practices and his family is stressful, but Centeno’s focus is never lost.

“If you want to do something, try it out and just do it. If you can’t, then find a way. There is nothing that a person cannot do. We might fall, but we’ll get up. I fell many times and they told me to stop, but I didn’t stop. I’m not going to stop,” Centeno concluded.

For information on any services mentioned in this story, links are listed bellow.

Cerritos College DSPS: http://cms.cerritos.edu/dsps/

The BLINDSTART of America Organization: http://www.blindstart.org

Souther California Rehab Services: http://www.scrs-ilc.org