It's never easy to see the finish line on "The Amazing Race Canada." This season, however, one competitor is attempting to run the race blind.
Lowell Taylor, a 34-year-old psychologist from Lethbridge, Alta., is the first legally blind contestant on either the Canadian or American version of "The Amazing Race." He and his wife Julie, a 33-year-old speech and language pathologist, are sitting in the seventh spot heading into week four of the show's fourth season, which airs Tuesdays on CTV.
Lowell is coping with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative eye disease that has left him with no peripheral vision, reduced central vision and night blindness.
His central vision has narrowed to within a 15 per cent range.
"When I look at your eye," he says, "I don't see your mouth."
Lowell has had to adjust to decreasing vision all his life. His hero is his grandfather, who lost his sight at age 40 and continued to farm until he was 80.
By competing in the race, Lowell hopes "to be an inspiration to young people and people who need to overcome challenges."
Especially to two preschoolers back home in Lethbridge, adds Julie. "I'm looking forward to our own kids seeing what their dad can do despite his disability."
The couple met 13 years ago at the University of Lethbridge. They've long been adventure-seekers, hitting the road for over a year in New Zealand before starting a family. Lowell once even took on a Calgary radio station challenge, riding a Ferris wheel for an entire week.
Friendly and outgoing, they thought they'd play a strong social game. "That blew up in our faces," says Lowell. "Nobody wanted to be our friend," adds Julie, "because we were always at the back of the pack."
The producers made no attempt to ease Lowell into the race. The first episode opened with teams repelling off towers in Calgary and bungee jumping off of the Skytram in Jasper, Alta.
"We weren't expecting right off the bat there would be these extreme things," says Julie.
Executive producer John Brunton says there was debate about casting a blind competitor.
"In his audition tape, he said he wanted to attempt to compete equally with everybody else," says Brunton. "Thank God he has a partner."
It helps, he adds, that the Taylors "are about as nice a couple as I've ever met."
Lowell and Julie have already enjoyed a celebrity encounter during the race — they ran into former prime minister Stephen Harper at the Calgary airport. "I made him hug me!" says Julie. "He didn't stand up right away."
"I think he was really regretting not having his private jet at that point," jokes Lowell.
On the next episode, which takes place in Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City, the Taylors have to sing a song in a dark, noisy karaoke bar — in Vietnamese. That's a tall order for teams who can read the strange sounding words off a monitor, but Lowell has to memorize his lyrics in order to advance past the challenge.
"Navigating in the dark is nothing new to me," says Lowell, ever cheerful.
Episode four will also challenge teams to chew their way through some local delicacies from a street vendor, including larvae, crickets, centipedes, live coconut worms and, for desert, a bat.
Bring it on, says Lowell. "The faster, the higher, the colder, the deeper, the stinkier — I love it."
The Taylors would love to win the $250,000 grand prize to help fund Lowell's other dream: participating in the Paralympic Games. He's been training in road and track cycling.
He realizes, of course, that "there's not a lot of money in blind racing." Any "Amazing Race" money would also go into their children's education funds as well as into resources the couple will need as Lowell's eyesight continues to deteriorate.
The money is important, say the Taylors, but they know better than most that money isn't everything.
"This is all about the experience for us," says Lowell, "seeing the world before I go blind."
— Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont. While in Vietnam, Brioux was a guest of CTV.