Sight, touch, sound, taste and smell. Our five senses help guide us through everyday life.
For Jay Blake, though, many of those senses are now distant memories.
Keep reading to see how one frightening accident motivated this team leader to follow his dream.
Cue the Checkered Flag
“When I arrived at the racetrack, my heart started pounding,” said Blake, president and founder of Follow A Dream, a nonprofit, NHRA drag racing team. “My adrenaline, it was flowing. I felt this sense of just being alive.”
Blake has always been drawn to the asphalt, and he leads his pit crew much like others before him — with precision, persistence and cutting speed.
“The atmosphere of drag racing is very competitive,” Blake said. “We have won two eastern region championships a number of races … national events, regional events.”
But one glaring detail sets him apart from the rest: He’s blind.
An Everyday Tragedy Strikes
Blake’s tragedy struck him on an otherwise ordinary Thursday afternoon at the track. He was working on a forklift wheel-and-tire assembly when suddenly, the assembly malfunctioned — the bolt snapped, the wheel came apart and hit him square in the head. After being sent airborne by the sheer force — about 15 feet vertically and 40 feet across the room — he landed directly on the concrete floor.
“The first thing I remember after my accident is I woke up, and I was in a very white and very bright place,” he said. “As I was in this state, a male voice said to me, ‘Do you want to stay or do you want to go?’ And I said I have two kids, I have to go.”
Getting Back Behind the Wheel of His Dreams
When Blake came to, he was left without three out of five senses: His sight, smell and taste.
“It’s black, all the time,” said Blake. “If I chose to sit on the couch, smoke cigarettes and drink beer and be miserable for the rest of my life, everybody would’ve been okay.”
“But when I stood up and kicked down the front door and said, ‘I’m going racing,’ everybody stands back, they point their finger and they go ‘that guy’s nuts,'” he said.
Following His Dream
Blake’s lack of sight didn’t stop him from returning to the track. He continued to follow his high-speed dreams, establishing Follow A Dream in 1999.
His first major hurdle was funding.
“The only way I could purchase my first alcohol funny car was to remortgage my house,” he explained. “The race car was the tool that I used to show people that what I’m talking about can really happen and is real.”
Blake’s race car serves as bona fide evidence for the disbelievers — he has disassembled the entire car himself and reassembled a large majority of it.
These days, the goal of Follow A Dream is two-fold: On the racing side, the team hopes to win a national championship, and on the outreach and speaking side of the program, Blake inspires others with his story, hosting more than 20 speaking presentations a year.
“Yes, I’m blind, but I didn’t give up,” he said. “So, if you’ve got something, don’t you give up.”
Click through to read about more people who turned their dreams into realities.