Eighteen is a pivotal age for anyone. As we graduate high school and begin our first steps into the adult world through work and higher education, our life begins to change in a drastic way. Yet for Justin Holland, “drastic” was an understatement.
In 2016, just as preparing to go to college to study engineering, something unexpected happened. He began to notice a spot in his eyesight that within two months would leave him legally blind.
A Lifechanging Diagnosis
After months without answers, Justin discovered he had a rare genetic disease called Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, or LHON. This degenerative disease is irreversible, robbing him of his sight and leaving him with only light perception to guide him.
“It happened so fast,” Justin admitted. “It was really weird. Even the doctor didn’t believe it.”
Yet the reality was coming on fast, as his vision faded at a rapid rate. So quickly, in fact, that it was hard for him to grasp what was happening.
“You could say I was being positive, but now, looking back on it, it was me denying what was happening,” Justin explained. “I didn’t know for sure it was going to keep getting worse, but I didn’t want to accept that it was. I even went and got new glasses to see if it would do anything, and, of course, it didn’t.”
Suddenly the future of going to college and becoming an engineer slid to the backburner. Instead, he stayed home with his parents as he fought to adapt to life without sight. He had to relearn everything, from how to navigate inside and out of his home to how to do everyday tasks like pick out clothes, get dressed, and prepare food.
“Dealing with the situation, it was difficult, and the shock of it is what hit me the most,” Justin said. “I tried to stay as busy as possible and that’s what helped me. Staying busy, going to the gym, and having my family.”
That family became his cornerstone, supporting him as he began to reorient himself with the world through assistive technology, a guide dog, a support cane, and the unyielding encouragement of his family and fiancé.
“Being able to hang out at home and get a ride to the gym and get a ride to work, it was really awesome to have my family there,” he explained. “My mom was and still is a really big help in contacting people with services that I needed.”
As difficult as his diagnosis was, Justin didn’t let it be an anchor on his life. Instead, he chose to keep moving forward.
Justin Sets His Sights on Bodybuilding and YouTube
As Justin began finding ways to still be active and embrace life despite his new disability, he wanted a platform where he could share his journey. Familiar with filming, he turned to YouTube. After seeing what others like him were doing online, he found himself considering a different angle on the “blind life documentary” genre.
“When I started going blind, I was still watching YouTube and I found Tommy Edison and a handful of other YouTubers, but none of them are really doing the fitness thing,” Justin said.
Justin’s passion for fitness has been going strong since he was fourteen, and he wasn’t about to let LHON stop him from keeping that outlet. In fact, he even competed in a bodybuilding competition after his disability set in.
“I’m a blind guy with a vision to show people that even though I’m blind, I’m still going to do the things I love,” he said. “I find a way to work around the blindness and go on adventures. A lot of the things I enjoy are active.”
You’ll find many videos on Justin’s YouTube channel demonstrating his zeal for strength training, physical activity, and the great outdoors.
Life Without Sight Can Still Have a Clear Vision
This isn’t to say that Justin hasn’t seen his share of struggles. Since LHON began to impact his life 2 years ago, there have still been many moments where he had to face the reality of this huge life change. At times, it was really difficult as he felt the pain of his loss and the frustration of his limitations.
But at the end of the day, he chooses not to be paralyzed by them. Rather, he perseveres and embraces the things he can do.
“I was always constantly trying to become stronger and become better,” he said. “That, for me, is what it’s all about. The hardest part was the mental battle. It’s a challenge like no other but challenging myself is what I’m all about and fitness really does it for me.”
As for those who may be able to relate to his story, Justin has a word of advice.
“Find something you enjoy doing that keeps you busy,” he said. “There’s all kinds of things that blind people can do. No matter what the disability is, you can still find things to do and live life.”