Louie McGee is 19 years old. He’s a three-time triathlete. He’s completed an IRONMAN. He’s created a nonprofit foundation.
And he’s legally blind.
At the age of 5, McGee was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a rare genetic condition that causes degeneration of the retina. As his disease progressed over the years, so did his drive for adventure, as well as his passion for helping others. Both inside and outside of the blind community, he’s committed to helping people see past their own perceived limitations and adopt a mindset that allows them to strive for more.
McGee believes the best way to do this is by sharing stories. Because he doesn’t just want to tell people to change their outlook, he wants to show them how it’s done, so they’ll be inspired to do the same. Here, McGee shares the four elements he feels are essential to this shift in perspective, offering his insights — and the real-life ways he’s done it.
1. FOCUS ON WHAT’S POSSIBLE
Up until a few years ago, McGee didn’t know a thing about triathlons. He swam throughout grade school and high school, but was never a distance runner or cyclist. He got the idea to do a triathlon, and in 2017, competed as a visually impaired athlete in the Life Time Tri in Minneapolis, Minn. He went on to do it two more times.
Two days after his first triathlon, McGee asked his parents if he could do an IRONMAN — a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run.
“They immediately said no, reminding me that I’d never run more than six miles or biked more than 25 miles,” says McGee. He was persistent, saying he wanted to do something big to inspire other kids. In 2018, his family traveled to Kentucky to watch him compete in the Louisville IRONMAN.
“I want others to think about what they want to do first,” says McGee. “I don’t think about my vision first. I think about what’s possible and then I can figure out the accommodation. If you do that, you’ll be able to reach farther.”
2. CHALLENGE YOURSELF
In 2016, McGee started his foundation, Louie’s Vision, as a way to help kids with blindness gain more life experiences. It also inspired him to push himself.
“If I’m telling people to change their perspective, I want to show them how I’m changing mine,” says McGee. “By challenging myself, I’m showing them how I get out of my comfort zone.”
What that looks like is different for everyone, of course. McGee’s foundation regularly hosts events such as yoga, hiking, golf, and ski outings. By engaging in these activities, the kids — and their parents — realize they can do it, and feel more confident pushing themselves the next time around.
Recently for McGee, that push was white-water rafting through the Grand Canyon. McGee went with a group of high school-age kids, both sighted and unsighted, who hiked, climbed, and rafted together. He hopes his next endeavor will be kayaking that same river.
“That trip taught me there is no limit,” says McGee. “Like I did for IRONMAN, I just said I wanted to do it. I hadn’t thought about how — that came next. That might be the kid in me, but I also feel like that’s the right outlook. It’s a positive one.”
3. TAP INTO YOUR MOTIVATION
For McGee, it’s all about helping others. Since he completed the IRONMAN, he’s met with countless families who heard his story and are going through similar situations with their kids. He also speaks to groups all over, including participating in TEDxMinneapolis this year.
“I can say I want to inspire the blind community, but having real people and families in that community who I know personally gives me a more specific group to point to,” says McGee. “I inspire them, but they also inspire me.”
He refers to his races — the IRONMAN in particular — as more mental than physical challenges, and has found it helpful to always have that source of motivation to tap into.
“When things are getting tough, I think about who I’m doing it for and the people I want to send a message to,” says McGee. “Rather than just thinking about trying to get to the next mile, I’m pointing to someone I want to help, and that makes all the difference.”
4. FIND YOUR SUPPORT
“I grew up with a great support system of family and friends around me,” says McGee. “I realized not everyone necessarily has that, so I wanted to create Louie’s Vision, a place where we could be that network for kids.”
Community is also what brings McGee back to competing, tri after tri. He races with his name on the back of his shirt, along with the words “blind athlete,” which helps others recognize who he is and cheer him on.
“It’s a race, but it feels more like you’re racing with each other rather than against,” says McGee. “That’s what stuck with me the most — how nice and supportive the people were. Everyone seemed to know each other even if they didn’t actually. I felt like I was already friends with them.”
If there’s one piece of wisdom McGee hopes will spread, it’s this: “We all have something we’re dealing with,” says McGee. “For me, it’s blindness, and it’s not easy. But it’s given me the chance to change my perspective and learn things in a new way. I believe we can all use our challenges to advantages like that. Join me in finding the possibility. It’s like I always tell my parents, I’ll figure it out.”
To hear more of Louie McGee’s story, visit my.lifetime.life/member-stories/louie-mcgee.html.