Dan Mancina is a skateboarder whose jaw-dropping videos rack up hundreds of thousands of views.
He has a loyal following on Instagram, all eager to see him land jumps and all kinds of skillful tricks.
Mancina also happens to be blind – and videos of him using his white cane as he climbs aboard inspire curiosity and admiration from fans around the world.
“I lost my sight slowly throughout my life,” he told CNN Sport, explaining that it wasn’t until his mid-20s that his condition – a neurodegenerative eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa – began to affect his daily life, preventing him from driving and cycling.
“Ultimately [I] I got to the point where I didn’t think I could leave the house without someone, like a human guide or someone, a friend. I couldn’t even walk in my own block and stuff like that,” the 35-year-old added.
“I’m trying to figure out ‘what is a blind person? What can a blind person do?
The Michigan native started skating at age seven, but got into it more seriously at age 13, developing a love for the sport that he says helps him express himself.
“You can do it alone if you want, or with friends, and kind of be in your own little world,” he said.
Mancina, who dreamed of being a professional skateboarder, stopped skating for a few years. This period, he said, was his “lowest point.”
But orientation and mobility training helped him gain confidence, and slowly he got back to doing what he loved, fishing, spending time outdoors and, of course, windsurfing. on wheels.
“I really thought skateboarding was over and out of my life and out of my past,” said the American, who counts Adidas among his sponsors.
“I didn’t think I would be able to get the same things out of it as when I was clairvoyant, or that I would be able to really progress or push myself.”
He began filming short videos of his progress and posting them to Instagram and Youtube and met a new group of people to skate with, gaining enough confidence to return to the streets.
“I just had to try it, do it, and then realize that I can get these things out of it,” he added.
“I go through these realizations about my blindness and myself and realize: I’m still the same person and I can still do all the things I love. I just had to do them a little differently.
Today, Mancina wants to challenge misconceptions about blindness and create spaces where visually impaired people can practice the sport.
“I wanted to build the first fully adaptive skatepark designed around visual impairments, so I started a foundation called ‘Keep Pushing Incorporated’ and have been fundraising ever since. [for] a few years now,” he said.
The park, to be built in Mancina’s home state of Michigan, will use adaptive methods, such as increasing the size of obstacles, adding contrast to obstacles and using cues hearing aids to make it safe and accessible.
“[The] the rims are very long and the flat bars are very long, the quarter pipes are very wide.
“So there’s a bit more time to figure out where you are in the park, find your way around, get on and off wheelchair rails more easily and use a lot of contrast too, that’s important for those who have a bit of residual vision between the ramps and the ground,” he explained.
Mancina has raised about $40,000 for the park and, after pouring concrete this fall, hopes to hold skate workshops by next spring and summer.
With a spacious layout and tactile terrain, Mancina built the park with schools, organizations, rehabilitation centers and other disability-friendly sports organizations in mind.
“They should have access to everything, like all other children,” he said. “Skateboarding is just one of those things – you know, it’s not for everyone, but there will be kids who want to skate.
“I am honored and hope that I can be a voice for our community. That’s why I started my social media thing, to change the perception of the visually impaired.
“I noticed a big difference in how people treated me as a sighted person compared to a blind person,” he said, explaining that some people have lower expectations of what a blind person can accomplish.
“Some people think it’s crazy and impossible to skate. It’s not that crazy… in my head. It’s just that I like to skate. So I will. So I encourage people to think this way – don’t let others dictate your life and decide what you can and can’t do. You know, it’s all up to you.
As for the future, Mancina has a lot of plans.
“Number one is just to skate as long as I can and keep living this life for as long as I can,” he said.
“Keep filming parts [is goal] number one, then keep progressing, all that stuff, and then work towards skateboarding in the Paralympic Games.