On the verge of a competitive hockey career, Mark DeMontis suddenly went blind at age 17, but soon opened his eyes to new possibilities. He rollerbladed 5,000 kilometres across the country, raising funds to start Courage Canada, a charity that fosters the sport of blind hockey. He became a sports broadcaster and professional speaker. DeMontis may have lost his sight, but his vision inspires many Canadians.

Mediaplanet: How did you lose your eyesight?

Mark DeMontis: I was diagnosed with a rare condition called Leber hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON), which takes away your central vision and within days left me legally blind and unable to drive or play competitive hockey. It was really sudden. I still have some vision — about four or five percent — but it's very foggy, just shapes and shadows.

For me, the toughest part was hockey, and knowing my career was done. Fortunately I have a great family, friends, and community here in Toronto where I grew up, and I received a lot of support. I did go through a pretty tough time, but was eventually able to bounce back.

MP: What made you start Courage Canada?

MD: I love my hockey. If you've been in the game your whole life, it's something you pass down the generations. You want your kids to do it, and their kids. You want to keep the sport in the family, and for that reason it continues to be a strong pastime in our country.

I started playing blind hockey after I lost my eyesight. For me it's about doing what I love to do, and celebrating something that is special in our country. I realized there were no programs in Canada for youth and I decided that's what I wanted to devote my life to. I wanted to bring the sport of blind hockey to the forefront. 

MP: How did you get started?

MD: When I was 21, I rollerbladed 5,000 kilometres from Toronto to Vancouver, to raise money and awareness. I was able to skate with a guide, a good friend of mine. It was pretty intense. When I tell people, they think it was pretty crazy how far I was willing to go to do this, and to help people. How serious I was about this had an impact on people.

MP: What would you say to others facing similar experiences?

MD: Really consider what it is at the end of the day that is being taken away from you. Try and realize that as much as you may not be what you expected, it may be nothing compared to what others face in their lives. There's still so much life ahead of me. You've got to decide whether it's worth get held up over bad news or trying to surpass it and move on.

It's important to look at the great, inspiring things that are in the world around us to motivate you...  It's been 10 years since I lost my vision and I'm happy — and I think that's what matters most. I feel like I'm living a life with my sight, even though I don't have it.