Blindness has not stopped 53-year-old Ed Kanan from competing in the sports he loves--snow and water skiing--and he has the gold medals to prove it.
He lost his vision, one eye at a time, seven years ago from detached retinas related to a diabetic condition. Two operations were unable to save his sight.
A developer and president of Santa Monica-based Kanan Brothers Builders, he called the period after his surgery "the low point in my life." But rather than submit to depression, he took up the challenge of competitive skiing. (There are 200-250 competitive blind skiers in the United States, according to the American Council of the Blind in Washington, D.C.)
Forced Himself to Recover
Six months after going blind, he was schussing down a slope in Vail, Colo.
"I forced myself to recover," he said. "I figured if I could ski down a mountain, I could do everything I put my mind to."
Kanan recently spoke with a visitor in his Wilshire Boulevard office. A wide grin often crossed his deeply tanned face as he discussed his life and his ambition to compete in the 1988 Handicapped Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, sponsored by the International Sports Organization for the Disabled.
As an athlete, he has varied successes to draw on. He played basketball and volleyball at Santa Monica High School and Santa Monica College and was a member of the national championship volleyball team at UCLA in 1954.
In 1974, he bought a home near Lake Arrowhead as a retreat for himself and his wife, Sharon, 50, and sons Eddie, 25, and Kevin, 23.
"It was a place where we would go as a family and it would keep the boys and me together as a unit," he said. He called his early skiing attempts there "klutzy."
"I never learned how to ski until I went blind. It took so long to break the bad habits," he said. "In water skiing, it took a long time to get up on two skis and then getting up on one ski. . . ."
Guided by his son Eddie, Ed Kanan said he is a better snow skier now because where he once feared large, bumpy moguls on some steep runs, now, he handily skis over them. "With the lack of sight, when you can't see something to be afraid of, you aren't afraid," he said.
He admitted that he has had spills, including one where he "bowled over" an onlooking skier. "I've had harrowing experiences where I've gotten hurt a little, but never anything serious," he said.
In 1983, he won a gold medal in the giant slalom at the U.S. Assn. of Blind Athletes Alpine Competition, held at Alta, Utah. It was a double victory because it marked the first time he had competed while guided by Eddie. The framed gold medal hangs in the reception area of his business.
In January, 1986, he won two silver medals in the giant slalom and slalom of the Western Region finals of the USABA Alpine Competition, held in Kirkwood, Calif. In March, he garnered two gold medals in the giant slalom in the USABA's national competition, held in Boreal Ridge, Calif., and became its 1986 Blind Alpine Ski Champion.
In February, 1986, at Alpine Meadows (near Squaw Valley), he raced in the Western Region finals of the National Handicapped Sports and Recreation Assn., an organization whose members include Ted Kennedy Jr., who lost a leg to bone cancer. Kanan won a gold medal in the slalom and a silver medal in the giant slalom.
In mid-January, Ed and Eddie flew to Vail for a week to prepare for 1987 competitions. This week Ed is competing at Sandia Peak near Albuquerque, N.M., in the USABA's Winter National Championships and the pre-qualifying event for the 1988 Handicapped Olympics. So far, he has captured one gold medal. He also will enter the Western and Rocky Mountain regionals of the NHSRA's '87 events and hopes to compete in the finals.
Skiiing the Downhill
In future races, he wants to enter downhill competition where speeds reach up to 60 m.p.h.
"The one thing I enjoy about skiing is that you get up on a mountain and you get a natural high. I still get that feeling even though I can't see the trees zipping by," he said. "It's a feeling of accomplishment."
But his awards haven't been limited to snow skiing.
In August, he and Sharon flew to Norway, where he captured the title of 1986 World Champion Blind Water Skier in the International Disabled Water Ski Championship, sponsored by the Norwegian Water Ski Federation. He won a gold medal in the wake-crossing event and plans to compete again next year.
Several years ago, Kanan founded a nonprofit organization, Santa Monica Blind Skiers Inc., which last fall co-sponsored the National Blind Water Ski Competition in Winter Haven, Fla. The second annual event was conducted in October in Orlando and attracted about two dozen competitors.
On Ed's snow-skiing ventures, he usually is accompanied by Kevin, a student at Santa Monica College, and Eddie, who, as controller of Kanan Brothers, can more easily schedule time off.
Eddie learned to ski when he was 12, but in 1983, took race training at Kirkwood Instruction for Blind Skiers to hone his skills as a guide.