Sparkt Bridges

Her Battle With Blindness Inspires Others

She's been on Dancing With the Stars and won medals as a downhill skier. How her message can help anyone overcome their fears.


This story is part of a bi-weekly series that celebrates people who are reaching across a divide to "build bridges" with those different from themselves. The Sparkt Bridges series is made possible with the support of UPMC.

Danelle Umstead can remember even as a child wanting to change the world. She couldn't have imagined then how she would do it, and the personal challenges she would have to overcome to achieve her dream.

Danelle has a genetic eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa (RP) . She's legally blind, and eventually the condition will cause her to completely lose her vision. Danelle also lives with multiple sclerosis (MS) , a disease of the central nervous system that can cause a wide range of physical problems.

Despite all that, Danelle is a world class alpine skier, and was invited to perform on Dancing With the Stars on ABC in 2018. Thanks to her celebrity she's able to spread her message of hope to others who face the same physical challenges she does. And I found out, Danelle's insights on how to face your fears can help anyone who doubts their ability to overcome life's challenges.

Danelle began losing her vision at the age of 13. When she was diagnosed with MS as an adult, she started to wonder if her vision loss had been incorrectly attributed to retinal disease. That motivated her to find out more about inherited retinal disesases (IRDs) through the Eye Want 2Know website . Genetic testing did confirm a gene mutation was responsible. "There's no cure for me right now. Knowledge is good, important. Maybe someday there will be a cure for everyone," said Danelle. Thousands of others with IRDs have followed her lead and been tested, contributing to a growing understanding of the disease in the medical community.

Competing with husband Rob at the 2014 Sochi games.

These days Danelle and husband Rob continue to compete. They also work to inspire others through their website, Vision 4 Gold , and through their motivational speaking (click here) . "It's great to medal, but what is even better is when you get to the finish and you know that you did your very best."

(Images: Vision4Gold website /Joe Kusumoto, Danelle Umstead Facebok Page )

The Sparkt Bridges Project is produced

with the generous support of UPMC.

Life Changing Medicine.

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