Vi­sion im­pair­ment made Con­cep­tion Har­bour man a hard­core cy­clist

Lawrence Pen­ney or­ga­nizes an­nual re­search fundraiser in hopes chil­dren won’t face his chal­lenges

The Compass - - Editorial - BY AN­DREW ROBIN­SON editor@cb­n­com­pass.ca

It’s hard to slow down Lawrence Pen­ney of Con­cep­tion Har­bour.

Since his 2010 di­ag­no­sis for re­tini­tis pig­men­tosa, a hered­i­tary form of de­gen­er­a­tive tun­nel vi­sion, he’s taken on a new­found pas­sion for cy­cling.

Any given day, he’ll ride 40-50 kilo­me­tres (Pen­ney aims to do a min­i­mum of 100 kilo­me­tres each week). Pen­ney has put al­most 26,000 kilo­me­tres on his bikes since 2012.

The soon-to-be 66-year-old reck­ons he’s in bet­ter shape now than he was in his 40s eas­ily, and he hopes to keep it up for at least a few more years.

“I just like feel­ing healthy and strong that way,” Pen­ney told The Com­pass dur­ing a re­cent phone in­ter­view.

But that in­ter­est in cy­cling also fu­els a char­i­ta­ble cause. For the last two years, he and his wife Amy have co-chaired the St. John’s Cy­cle for Sight, an event ben­e­fit­ing the Foun­da­tion Fighting Blind­ness, a group spear­head­ing re­search to pre­vent, treat and cure reti­nal dis­ease. For Pen­ney, his rea­sons for get­ting in­volved are pretty per­sonal. Three of his sib­lings also have re­tini­tis pig­men­tosa, and it’s highly likely some of his seven chil­dren and 12 grand­chil­dren will show symp­toms even­tu­ally.

“There’s a lot of good re­search on the go, but hope­fully that’ll be more for my grand­kids and kids than for my ben­e­fit,” Pen­ney said, not­ing some of his chil­dren ride in the Cy­cle for Sight as well.

50-50 chance

His mother Lil­lian al­ways ex­pe­ri­enced night blind­ness and Lawrence Pen­ney has three bikes he moves be­tween de­pend­ing on the sort of ter­rain he’s pre­par­ing for.

wasn’t di­ag­nosed with the dis­ease un­til she was in her 50s.

“If either of your par­ents have it, there’s a 50-50 chance you’ll pass it on to your kids,” ex­plained Pen­ney, who grew up in Tacks Beach, Pla­cen­tia Bay, be­fore his par­ents re­set­tled the fam­ily in For­tune.

It was for­tu­nate the dis­ease didn’t come into play un­til his ca­reer with the De­part­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans was just about fin­ished. But he did find him­self forced into mak­ing a tough de­ci­sion about his trans­porta­tion op­tions — hav­ing lost most of his pe­riph­eral vi­sion, Pen­ney could no longer drive a car.

“If either of your par­ents have it, there’s a 50-50 chance you’ll pass it on to your kids.”

— Lawrence Pen­ney

“Af­ter all the field tests, (the doc­tor) rec­om­mended that I shouldn’t drive,” Pen­ney re­called.

With ve­hi­cles a no-no, Pen­ney was able to find a new ride cour­tesy of his two-wheeler. He’s very care­ful and comes to a full stop for mul­ti­ple sce­nar­ios, in­clud­ing those where he’s com­ing to­wards a merg­ing lane. Off-road rid­ing on his new fat-wheeled bike is ideal (he also has a road bike and moun­tain bike). With his wife still work­ing in St. John’s, he’ll some­times hitch a ride to the city with her and then find his way back to Con­cep­tion Bay via his bi­cy­cle.

Cy­cle for Sight

Through the 2012 Vi­sion Quest con­fer­ence held in St. John’s, Pen­ney be­came aware of the 150-kilo­me­tre Toronto Cy­cle for Sight event, held every June. He started work­ing with a trainer in hopes of tak­ing part in the 2013 ride, which he did.

He con­tin­ued to travel each year to Toronto for the event, and in 2016, a con­ver­sa­tion started about host­ing Cy­cle for Sight in New­found­land and Labrador. Pen­ney was fully on­board. The in­au­gu­ral ride was held in 2017 and it took place again this past sum­mer. In two years, the lo­cal event has raised $35,000.

“The num­ber of rid­ers is only in the 20s or 30s, but we hope to keep build­ing it up,” Pen­ney said.

AN­DREW ROBIN­SON — THE COM­PASS

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