Keynote Speakers

Lonnie Bedwell

Extreme-sports athlete Lonnie Bedwell is a National Geographic 2015 Adventurer of the Year. He has kayaked some of the most challenging whitewater in the world and is responsible for first blind descents of Africa’s fabled Zambezi River and West Virginia’s world-renowned Gauley River. Lonnie is best known for his first descent of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. A command performance in the Grand Canyon in 2014 resulted in the Adventurer of the Year nomination.

A former Navy Petty Officer, Lonnie was critically injured during 1997 in a hunting accident that instantly took his sight. Nevertheless, he raised three daughters as a single father, teaching them all to hunt and fish — and, against all odds, to drive. Once the girls graduated from high school, Lonnie continued to challenge himself, ultimately becoming a renowned extreme sports athlete. When the threshold for running the Grand Canyon was placed at 1,000 kayak rolls, he took his donated kayak to the pond on his farm and rolled it 1,500 times. The rest is history.

Lonnie has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, summited several of North America’s highest mountains, rock climbs, and is an avid downhill skier when he has time away from roofing work in his hometown of Dugger, IN.

Lonnie’s mission is to motivate and inspire others to embrace life with confidence and courage. Lonnie is dedicated to helping veterans and many others enjoy full lives and while he is an advocate for the blind, blindness does not define either him or his efforts on behalf of others. Lonnie has appeared on The Today Show and Steve Harvey and has been featured in countless publications. He’s the author of the award-winning book 226 (the length in miles of the Colorado River stretch through the Grand Canyon) and shares his passion for life and adventure with audiences around the country.

Lonnie Bedwell surfs a wave in a whitewater kayak
A portrait photo of McClain Hermes holding a medal in her hands.

McClain Hermes

When McClain was eight she had four emergency eye surgeries due to retina detachments. She is completely blind in her right eye, but still has some vision in her left eye. McClain turned her disability of being blind into her ability!

She is a Paralympic swimmer that currently holds 15 American record, one PanAmerican record, and one World record. In August 2015, McClain represented Team USA at the 2015 ParaPan American games and won a bronze medal in the 400 M freestyle.

McClain enjoys being a good role model to younger athletes and children with similar visual impairments to her own. She makes light of her situation and loves to make people smile and laugh.

About the founder of Blind Endeavors

Steve Baskis

Specialist Steven C. Baskis successfully completed Infantry training at Fort Benning, Georgia in 2007 and went on to deploy with the U.S. Army’s distinguished 4th Infantry Division, a unit that crossed the Normandy beaches in World War II. While serving as a Personal Security Specialist in 2008, Baskis was severely wounded by an improvised explosive device during military operations in Baghdad, Iraq. May 13th, 2008 marked the day in which Baskis lost his sight and suffered multiple shrapnel injuries to the head, neck, arms and legs which resulted in significant blood loss, hearing loss, loss of smell and nerve damage to left arm. Steve explains how this traumatic experience has forever changed his sight and vision. “I may have lost my physical ability to see, but I have a new vision, a new perspective to guide me through life and all of it’s amazing challenges.

After war and debilitating injuries, Steve has gone on to climb 2 of the 7 tallest mountains in the world which include Mount Elbrus in Europe and Kilimanjaro in Africa. A documentary titled “High Ground”, captures Steve and 11 veterans’ amazing journey to climb a 20,000 foot Himalayan peak, Lobuche, which sits in the shadow of Mount Everest. Another documentary Steve had the opportunity to be featured in is “On Me”.  The film follows five completely blind veterans down a stretch of white water river rapids in Montana. Baskis has found a love for adventure and physical challenge.  Actively pursuing half marathons, a half ironman, cycling nearly 800 miles from the capital of Canada to the capital of The United States, snow skiing down cold mountains in Colorado and white water kayaking down the Yellowstone river, are just a few of Steve’s thrilling adventures.

“I now want to give back to the people who have helped me, by starting a foundation called Blind Endeavors, Steve says. The Blind Endeavors Foundation’s main purpose will center around educating, conducting research and making more people aware of what is possible, no matter the level of adversity faced.