An improvised explosive device in Iraq took away Steve Baskis' eyesight in 2008, but it didn't take away his desire to explore.
In the years since the blast that killed his friend, Victor Cota, and also injured his right hand and left arm, Baskis has scaled high peaks, kayaked through rapids, sailed on the Atlantic Ocean and biked from the capital of Canada to the capital of the United States.
“I'm always looking for something to explore,” the Army veteran told people attending the American Legion Auxiliary of Illinois 88th annual Patriotic Conference Friday in uptown Normal.
It was that desire to explore, and serve, that led him to enlist in the Army in 2007 with a goal of serving in the infantry. The same desire led him to form a foundation, Blind Endeavors, to partner with other organizations to provide experiences that fuel that sense of adventure and exploration and educate people about the adaptive equipment available.
“I wanted to give back and help people in my situation,” said Baskis, who believes “through sports, recreation and physical fitness, you learn your mind and your body best.”
In addition to inspiring people through his own example, he also is traveling around the country to talk about adaptive sports. His goal is to visit 50 schools in 50 states.
A native of Illinois, now living in Normal, Baskis said he's come long way since he was injured.
“I remember laying there worrying about my team in Iraq. … I felt like I should be there,” Baskis said. “The next thought that raced through my mind was, 'What's my future?'”
Through talking with other veterans who were blind, Baskis learned he did have a future and dedicated himself to his rehabilitation at the Hines Veterans Hospital in suburban Chicago.
“I made a decision that I had to live life,” he said.
“There's something about great adversity that leads to great accomplishment,” Baskis explained, “I love facing challenges.”
His most recent was sailing a two-person trimaran off the coast of Florida and camping on one of the keys.
Describing what it was like to sail, Baskis said, “You feel the wind fill the sail. … You feel the vibrations. It's quite an amazing feeling.”
His climbing experiences have led him to the top of a 20,000-foot peak in Nepal as well as the summit of Mount Kilamanjaro, the highest peak in Africa.
On a classic, 350-foot rock climb near Boulder, Colo. called Bastille Crack, climbers ahead and behind him gave basic directions for where to go, but he said, “You feel your way up the climb.”
Baskis said, “I've traveled around the world. I've not seen much, but I've experienced much.”
More than 300 people attended the conference at the Marriott Hotel and convention center that included other speakers, a remembrance of prisoners of war and those missing in action and a tribute to fallen members of the military. – Pantagraph
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