Sports enthusiast doesn’t let blindness slow her down

Deanna “Coach” Callender (Tracey Williams-Dillard)

Deanna “Coach” Callender is an inspiration. She is a lifelong resident of Minneapolis who lived a great life despite some recent health concerns, just like she did before going blind.

Callender went to grade school in Coon Rapids where, she says, “No one looked like me.” She then came to Minneapolis and went to Ramsey Junior High and Washburn High School. She graduated from Minneapolis Community College and St. Cloud State. She also formerly wrote for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder (MSR).

Teaching was her passion. “I retired from school teaching. I was a teacher and a girls’ and boys’ basketball coach and a girls’ volleyball coach at Lake Country Montessori School. Callender told MSR that she misses teaching.

“That was the joy of my life, teaching and being around children.” She began her career teaching high school physical education, English and health at Holy Angels [High School]. “When my son went to school, I taught physical education, health and kindergarten at Kings Christian Academy and Risen Christ [School].”
Callender has one son, Shir’Don, who is an estimator at M.A. Mortenson Company. “He is my pride and joy, of course.”

Speaking about some of her firsts, she told MSR, “I am the first African American female to graduate from Minnesota Military Academy, class of 1987. “I also served in the military, in the national guard from 1982-1984. [I] served in the Army active duty from 1984-1991, reserves from 1994-1998.

“I was [the first] African American female Greek, Delta Sigma Theta, on the campus of St. Cloud [State University]. I deactivated when I went down south because they were still segregated. My heart was broken.”

Callender began losing her sight nine years ago. She has been blind in one eye for three years and almost completely blind in the other eye for about three months, “So it is still kind of new to me.”
Initially, she was diagnosed with glaucoma. However, by the time they found out, her peripheral vision was already gone. “It just progressively got worse. I could not take [eye]drops and there was nothing they could do. A couple months ago, I woke up [to experiencing] a little light coming through. I still get a little light, but I cannot see anything.”

After losing her sight, Callendar said, “I was probably a little distraught for about a month. Then I thought, ‘Well, this is it. This is what it is, and I [have] to get back up and start moving.’” She currently is waiting on a call to get a seeing-eye dog.

Some of the medals Deanna Callender has won (Tracey Williams-Dillard)

Callender is a member of St. Peter A.M.E Church, a chaplain for the Minnesota Blind Veterans Association, the ambassador for the Challenged Athlete Foundation for Minnesota, and a member of the Youth Association of Blind Athletes.

“I do a lot of traveling,” she said. “I am very much a sports enthusiast, even though I have lost my sight. I still do everything. My favorite things to do are whitewater kayaking — I love doing that — and skiing, tandem biking, scuba diving and goal ball [blind soccer] at the Winter Sports Clinic for disabled veterans. I have been going there for five years.”
Callender also likes fishing, baseball, rock climbing and bowling. “I just do everything,” she said. “I have been on two whitewater kayaking [trips] that lasted a week at a time, one in Yellowstone River in Montana and one in the Sandwater River in Utah.”

She is employed part-time at the Hennepin County Medical Center. “I work as a moulage patient for the fire fighters, EMT’s and first responders, as they do their training and certifying. [A moulage applies mock injuries for Emergency Response Teams and other medical personnel.] It is not every day but an on-call kind of thing. Sometimes I will work every day from nine to noon, and sometimes I will only work once a month.”

The greatest thing in her life right now, she said, are the sports. “The Challenged Athlete Foundation allows me to do a lot of things. They pay for a lot of my trips. They send me on a lot of trips as the ambassador. It’s really is a wonderful life.”
Despite all the life changes she is going through, Callender plans to keep living on her own and doing various activities — “forever,” she said adamantly. “Being blind is not a big deal. [It] only makes you want to do more things.”


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