A champion’s view on life
La Verne’s Olympian Kevin Brousard brings home the gold.
by Aisha Gonzales
photography by Andrew Vasquez
Kevin Brousard is no stranger to hard work in the broadcast industry. His resume clearly shows he is intelligent, athletic, dedicated and ambitious. He takes on leadership roles with ease. It is not only his numerous athletic accomplishments that have made him stand out from the rest, but also Kevin’s ability to make people look past the fact that he is legally blind. “My biggest challenge has been to make people look past my disability. I always go above and beyond to show what I can do, because I know people look at me differently.”
Kevin does not appear any different from any other person walking down the street. Standing at 6’5” with dark black sunglasses, he has the persona of an athlete enjoying a day in the sun. Little do bystanders know that when this gentle giant man looks down at them, his gaze is not quite focused. Many quickly forget that he has a disability. “There are a lot of people that ‘A,’ do not know he has it, and ‘B’ do not believe him when he says he does,” says Mike Laponis, University of La Verne professor of communications.
The diagnosis and the disease
In first grade, Kevin began to notice his poor eyesight. At first, he could not read the front board. His parents took him to many doctors; he was continuously misdiagnosed and prescribed with ever thicker glasses. In eighth grade, an eye specialist at the UCLA Medical Center diagnosed that he was afflicted with Stargardt’s, a rare hereditary disease in which the macula of the eye degenerates, causing legal blindness. The macula is the central portion of the retina, which allows a person to see fine details. Although there was no prior family history, Kevin was told by the doctor that he had inherited a recessive gene from both parents. The family was put on alert that one out of every four of their children could develop the malady. Kevin has two brothers, Patrick, 23, and Dominic, 14. “I’m the lucky one in the family who got it. My brothers are both supportive of my activities and are very helpful in assisting me.”After his diagnosis, Kevin was issued a lens prescription, which would enable him to gain visual acuity of 20/400. Individuals who have vision worse than 20/200 are considered legally blind. “I can see color and light; it is just blurry. It is like seeing through a camera out of focus.” With clouded central vision, Kevin has to rely on his peripheral vision. “Voice recognition is a major resource for me. Certain individuals with distinctive voices I can ‘see’ from 50 yards away. Others, I can recognize by body shape, walking stride and other physical habits. I cannot recognize someone simply by facial features alone unless they are within five feet.”
Growing up, Kevin endured constant teasing. “The early part of high school is when I remember the teasing being the worst,” Patrick says. “Kevin’s eyesight, along with his changing height and weight, attributed to people mocking him. I would try to keep his spirits up.” Kevin used the experience as motivation. With more perseverance than a fairy tale hero, he was determined to show that his qualities could surpass his disability. “I want to prove myself beyond the point of my disability and have people know I am the man for the job. This has been my attitude since I was young.” He focuses on his strengths and works hard. “Everyone always focuses on the bad parts of life. People take general health and their abilities for granted. Focus on your abilities, not disabilities. Everyone has something they are good at. Do not let other stuff get in the way; let your abilities shine through.”
Nevertheless, at first, he thought life was unfair. “I would dwell on the negatives and had a ‘woe is me’ attitude. Now, I have realized just how blessed I am. I have never had surgery, never been in a serious health matter, or have suffered major physical limitations because of my disabilities. I focus on what I can do, rather than what I cannot do. I can never drive, and it’s hard to recognize people, but I have been blessed with a great, supportive family, an amazing education, a beautiful home and community, teachers who support physical strength, height and me, and countless other privileges that others would love to have. I always say, ‘Do not dwell on your disabilities, but showcase your abilities.’”
As a child, Kevin’s first interest was athletics. In elementary school, he enjoyed basketball and flag football. He was a valued six-foot tall offensive football tackle and also a field competitor for the San Clemente High School track team. “I think a lot of his determination came from the teasing in high school, and his way of dealing with those emotions was to focus on athletics,” Patrick says.
During his high school junior year, Kevin received an invitation to the World Youth Games for the blind in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where 500 competitors represented 30 countries. Kevin won a silver medal in shot put, missing gold by half an inch. “I always knew track was my main goal. I knew track could take me around the world. This event opened my eyes to how widespread athletic competitions are in the world for the blind.” Summer 2008, Kevin traveled to the International Blind Sports Association’s Bench-press and Power-lifting World Championship in Miami, Florida. He was one of 15 athletes chosen for Team USA, sponsored by the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Kevin took fourth in his weight class, lifting 270 pounds on the bench, 325 pounds in squats and 400 pounds in deadlift.
Kevin developed another passion—sports radio broadcasting. As a child, he would listen to sports announcer Chick Hearn’s broadcast of the Los Angeles Laker games. “Chick Hearn made me fall in love with sports broadcasting. His way of broadcasting had a positive impact on me, and I want to have the same effect on someone else.”
With the start of his studies at the University of La Verne, Kevin had three objectives in mind: to continue track, develop his passion for sports broadcasting and succeed in all his classes. Though athletics come natural for him, homework tends to be a bit difficult. “For homework or any reading, I have to be very close to the text, normally one to two inches from the surface. I have been doing this my whole life, and my eyes are used to it. My eyes do get tired easier because of the proximity and squinting.” He joined the La Verne track team and sports broadcasting crew instead of continuing with football. As a radio broadcast major, he took on the moniker, “DJ Buzzsaw,” announcing select sporting events at the University of La Verne. “My nickname in high school was Buzzard, something that a football coach coined because he had trouble saying my last name. Also, I grew up listening to a sports radio host named Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton. I combined the two names and got Buzzsaw.”
People ask him how his visual disability affects his live broadcasting of athletics. He answers, “When I announce a game, I use a monocular device that magnifies the view times eight. I also use this device in class to see the board. I have trouble making out numbers of players and sometimes loose track of the ball, but I prepare before each game to make sure I have each team’s players memorized by heart so I can minimize these mistakes.” He says certain sports are easier to announce, such as basketball and volleyball, because of the fewer number of players.
The summer following his college freshman year, he was invited to the Pan American Games in Colorado Springs. Athletes from all western hemisphere countries attended this major sporting event. Kevin competed in the shot put, discus throw and javelin events. With throws of 125 feet in javelin, 117 feet in discus and 39 feet in shot put, he took gold in each event. “The night before each track meet, I calmed my nerves by going through a meditation session in a quiet room. These last anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes. I am not a person who blasts heavy metal or gets amped up for a competition. I have tried that approach, and it has not worked for me. I find that when I am calm, my nerves are level, and I do not over think what I am doing. That is when I have my best performances.”
Kevin was still determined to do more despite his hefty schedule of classes, broadcasting events and athletic competitions and practices. During his La Verne sophomore year, he became a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity. SAE’s mission “to promote the highest standards of friendship, scholarship and service” plus the warm fraternity friendships had a profound effect on him. “The members of SAE looked beyond my disability and saw my positive qualities,” Kevin says. “They have my back, and the support really helps. Our motto is to be true gentlemen and not to make anyone aware of their disability.”
Spring 2011, Kevin was invited to compete as one of the 40 Americans attending the World Championship for the Blind in Antalya, Turkey. The international event hosted eight different sports for 60 countries and 1,000 blind athletes. Kevin used his track season at La Verne as preparation. “There was no difference in training,” Pat Wildoff, La Verne track coach, says. “He is willing to work extra and throws until he gets tired.” A month before his departure to Turkey, Kevin developed a shin stress fracture that forced him to sit out practices. Determined to compete, he traveled to Turkey in April with his American team. “The minimal training I had actually was a blessing in disguise. My body had a chance to heal up, and I felt fresh and healthy when I competed.” Kevin proceeded to show off his athletic ability in the shot put and discus. With throws of 42 feet in shot put and 139 feet and six inches in discus, he set a new personal record and an American record for the blind, taking home gold medals for each event. “During the event, I asked an official what time it was, and she showed me her watch,” Kevin says. “I asked her if she knew where she was at,” he laughs, at his sight joke.
Summer 2011, Kevin gained a lucrative internship at XX1090 AM Sports Radio Station in San Diego. On air, he became known as “The Blind Intern.” Anchor Scott Kaplan sometimes good naturedly used Kevin to gain a laugh. “I do not know the young man’s name,” he said on air in July. “I thought everyone just called him the ‘blind intern.’” Kevin grabbed a mic and good naturedly defended himself. “It is visually impaired,” he answered. “I am considered blind by the legal terms of the state of California, but I can still see. I’m walking around without a cane.” Kevin told his story to the regional audience. At the end of the lengthy interview, he had turned the joke around. “I like informing people about my disease, and how it affects me personally. If you take the effort to ask what is wrong with my eyes, it shows me that you legitimately care and want to learn more about my disease.” Kaplan was amazed at Kevin’s long distance travel on public transportation. He took one train and two buses two days a week in order to fulfill his internship requirements. “I still do not feel comfortable asking people for rides. It is always a big step for me. I’d rather take the bus on my own. I have realized, though, that it is OK to ask for help sometimes.”
As a La Verne senior, Kevin serves as a radio sports announcer and personality for 107.9 LeoFM at La Verne plus is the program director. “He has the experience, work ethic, interest and passion, so faculty and staff chose him for the position,” Laponis, the faculty radio program head, says. Kevin has also taken the position as eminent deputy archon for SAE, as well as president of the Interfraternity Council. After college, he plans to find a career in the sports broadcasting industry. He has prepared himself for the question employers might ask. “I would be realistic. I would also tell them that I make up for those tasks by doing things I can do to the fullest potential. Being disabled, I have learned that people will always doubt you, and that has taught me to prove to people beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am capable. I see myself as a role model for those with disabilities,” Kevin says. “Even though I have the disease, I can still stack up.” Kevin Brousard has proved to his peers that he is not defined by his disability but by his qualities and life outlook. “He’s already a success and will continue to be,” says Laponis, his radio professor. “He’s a real can do guy, and I have much respect for him.”