Losing Her Vision but Finding a New Purpose
This Women's History Month we’re sharing stories of our wonderful women graduates, volunteers, and staff. The story below originally appeared in the December 2021 edition of The Guideway, Vol 75 No 3, our newsletter. To sign up for The Guideway or for other information, please click here.
In 1988, Davida Luehrs was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic eye disorder that causes loss of vision; she was 29 years old. Her life changed, but with the loss of her vision came new purpose.
Luehrs became active in the Foundation Fighting Blindness. She founded a northern Virginia chapter in 2005 and became its first president, a position she still holds today, spearheading many fundraisers for the organization.
“Knowing that ‘sight’ was a core mission of the Lions, I reached out to some northern Virginia Lions clubs to do a presentation on behalf of FFB,” she says. “I instantly fell in love with the concept of Lionism and became a Lion.”
That was 11 years ago, she adds, and since then, Luehrs has served as president, zone chair, and region chair for District 24L. For the past seven years, she’s
been the district sight chair. “I continue to be amazed at how quickly Lions step up to meet any need and all that we accomplish in both big and small ways.”
Luehrs was managing her vision loss and navigated with the use of the white safety cane. However, she began to notice that her vision was getting worse with each passing year. “I was losing the edges of the sidewalk at times when I was walking with my white cane and that was causing me to have to slow down.” As an active person – dancing and walking are two of her favorite activities – she was concerned.
Luehrs and her husband had taken up dancing as a fun activity for the two of them to do together. “We thought we would do it for a little bit and stop, but then we realized that we really liked it.”
While her husband is content to be what she calls a “social dancer,” Luehrs says, “I really fell in love” with dancing and continued her lessons.
This past August, she and her partner (her dancing instructor) participated in her first-ever competition; she has several more planned for the future. Despite her continued vision loss, Luehrs remains committed and focused to continue dancing and competing.
A new partner
“My deteriorating vision was causing me to lose confidence,” Luehrs says. “I felt that a guide dog would help with my mobility, my self-confidence, and keep me safer than using a cane. As a Lion I have also seen firsthand how guide and service dogs can and do change people’s lives for the better.”
Luehrs chose the Guide Dog Foundation for her first guide dog. “My parents began donating to the Foundation in 1993, a few years after my diagnosis,” she says. She was also impressed by a Consumer Reports article that rated the Foundation as one of the top two charities in the blindness category. And finally, “I grew up in North Merrick, New York. I felt like I was going to be ‘close’ to home.”
During a visit back to Long Island in 2018, Luehrs took a tour of the Foundation. “When I saw the Lion plaque in the lobby that sealed my decision.”
Luehrs trained with guide dog Chubb in 2019. “I was warmly welcomed to my training classes and felt that every aspect of my experience was excellent,” she says. “We began by working with just a harness before we were introduced to our new guide dog. It helped prepare us and refresh our mobility skills.”
During the Foundation’s two-week training pro¬gram, an instructor works with two students. This 2:1 student/instructor ratio means that each student has ample one-on-one time with their instructor. Students review lectures on a daily basis, and work both on and off campus.
“The day had a good structure to it and was well balanced,” Luehrs says. “When off campus in Huntington, [the Foundation] had volunteers keep us company while our instructor was out with another student. On campus, we experienced daily challenges and obstacles and distractions that we could not anticipate.”
Since she and Chubb have become partners, “My mobility and self-confidence have increased,” Luehrs says.
In gratitude for what Chubb has brought to her life, Luehrs decided to “pay it forward.” She took the lead in her family’s fundraising efforts to sponsor puppy Danny, who was named in honor of her father, Daniel.
Daniel passed away in July, but before he did, he had agreed with the family’s desire to sponsor and name a second puppy, Maddy, after his wife. Luehrs also has plans to sponsor a third puppy to honor the founder of the Foundation Fighting Blindness, Gordon Gund.
She keeps a busy schedule between her volunteer work and fundraising efforts, and her dancing.
Luehrs shares an experience from when she first returned home with Chubb to illustrate how essential he had already become in her life: The dog guided her home from a neighbor’s home in the dark. “It was very empowering to successfully manage something that in the past I would have needed an arm of assistance to do,” she says. “Sometimes, it is truly the small things in life that seem to make such a difference.”