Blind American quits Cuba-US kayak crossing amid high winds

140425-peter-crowley-6_d1e350c4c7b0bc52748851c52ca405fd.nbcnews-ux-680-440HAVANA  1 May    A 56-year-old blind American who was trying to cross the treacherous Florida Straits in a kayak had to abandon the attempt because of strong winds, he told AFP Wednesday. Peter Crowley said he hopes to try again, perhaps next year, to traverse the 90-mile (150-kilometer) stretch of shark-infested waters that separate Cuba from Key West, Florida. In the meantime, Crowley said he was satisfied with the success of his donations of devices for Cuban schools for the blind. He said he will wait to make his next attempt until the United States authorizes him to provide such equipment again.

Crowley was born with optic atrophy — a malformation that prevents the optic nerve from functioning properly, leaving him with just seven percent of his vision. He is also hard of hearing in both ears. An accomplished athlete, Crowley has already completed several major kayaking feats, paddling more than 125 miles on the Hudson River in 1999 and becoming the first blind man to cross the English Channel in 2003. But he was forced to abort the Cuba-to-US kayak trek after eight hours, and rode the rest of the way to Florida on the support boat. Despite forecasts for “near perfect” weather, Crowley found himself paddling into winds of 20 miles (32 kilometers) per hour. “This was like paddling on a treadmill,” said Crowley, who lives on the outskirts of Albany, New York, and is married with three children.

“If you believe in God, God wasn’t letting us do it; if you believe in bad luck, we had bad luck,” said the athlete, who had hoped to get to Key West in 20 to 25 hours. “For safety reasons we did the right thing.” Told as a child there were many things he should not try, Crowley said he decided to focus on what he could do, rather than on his limitations. du/nss/vlk