Blind veteran targets making U.S. Paralympic team
MADISON, Wis. — He moves through a world of darkness guided only by the sound of his skis slicing through the snow and the steady voice of a guide, Andrew Poffenberger. To understand where Steve Baskis is going, you need to understand where he has been.
“On the 13th of May 2008 we were tasked to take the general up to a certain area north of Baghdad,” Baskis said.
The soldier with the 4th Infantry Division was riding in a vehicle that day when it was hit by a roadside bomb.
“The blast occurred on the right side of our vehicle and propelled this piece of metal at a high rate of speed and it pierced through our vehicle,” Baskis said.
He would watch his best friend, Staff Sgt. Victor Cota, die in the blast. It would be the last thing Steve Baskis would ever see. The explosion left him completely blind.
“Waking up in Walter Reed I was kind of, it felt like a dream. I still tell people to this day it almost feels like a dream and I’m going to wake up from this horrible place I’m in…this darkness,” Baskis said.
It would be his reality. Steve Baskis would only ever see one more thing … his future.
“I wanted to pursue what was next,” Baskis said.
Earlier this year, he began training in the biathlon, a sport that involves cross country skiing and target shooting. Unable to see the winter scape and trees that surround him, Baskis moves on trust. He follows the voice of his guide, Andrew Poffenberger, who skis a few feet ahead of him.
“I really hone in on maybe some of the things sighted people don’t pay attention to, the sounds. You know I’m really focused when I follow Andrew when he’s guiding me. I’m focused on the sound of the snow in front of me and the sound of his voice, where it is going.”
While Andrew is able to help guide Steve along the ski trail, once they reach the shooting range the assistance ends.
“Once he enters the range, that’s all on him,” Poffenberger said.
A marksman in the U.S. Army, being on the shooting range brings back memories of Iraq.
“It does remind me of my times in the military and my time as a sighted individual shooting,” Baskis said. “I enjoyed being a marksman and that’s one reason I pursued this sport.”
While he is unable to see the target down range, he uses an infrared laser rifle system to aim. He wears headphones and as the rifle aim comes closer to the target a high pitched sound signals to Steve.
“The high, high, high pitched sound is what I’m looking for, and that means I’m dead center.”
The veteran who served his country in Iraq is now targeting the opportunity to do that again at the Paralympics in South Korea in 2018, something his coach and guide believe is within reach.
“Definitely, just looking at the trajectory Steve’s been on this year he’s on good track to do something,” Poffenberger said. “I’ve seen able bodied persons give up because this sport is too hard, so to see somebody come through with a visual impairment like Steve, with absolutely no vision … that’s something special.”
Making the U.S. Paralympic team is not the only challenge Baskis has set for himself. He has successfully climbed mountains around the world, including the Himalayas in Tibet and Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa.
“Like a lot of people say, I want to see the world. I guess I see the world in a different perspective,” says Baskis.
For more information about Steve, visit his website at: http://blindendeavors.com/