By BOB NORBERG

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Move over RadioShack and take a back seat BMC Racing. Despite your strong Santa Rosa connections, my new favorite bicycle team is Blind Power.

Chard Lowden, who is blind, is the "stoker" on this tandem with his step-daughter Fiona Beall-Metcalfe as the captain. (JEFF KAN LEE / The Press Democrat)

How can you not root for a team in which Blind Power is also written in Braille on the jersey and the team motto is No Limits? It’s a made-for-TV Just Do It commercial.

Chard Lowden of Santa Rosa, who lost virtually all of his sight two years ago when he suffered an inflation of the optic nerves, rides on the back of a tandem bike, mostly with his step-daughter, Fiona Beall-Metcalfe.

They did the King Ridge GranFondo last year, the full 100-mile ride, and are training for the medio fondo this year.

Before losing his sight in October 2009, he was active in hiking, riding and kayaking and faced the prospect of not being able to do any of that.

“The biggest issue for me was I could not cycle again,” the 60-year-old Lowden said. “I walk still, it is more challenging to hike, but at this point cycling is my main sport.”

Donn Navar of Santa Rosa, who is also 60, suffers from diabetes and has been blind for 30 years and riding with his wife, Genevieve, for the past 10.

Unlike Chard, their’s is now mostly for fitness, recreation and to run errands.

You can draw strength from their stories, considering how vulnerable we all are, just an illness or accident away from similar life-altering conditions.

Lowden and Navar are also fortunate enough to have support of friends, family and a cycling community that stepped up.

Lowden, who only has a little peripheral vision remaining in his left eye and is blind in his right, was able to keep his job at Marmot, a manufacturer of outdoor clothing and equipment. That’s amazing considering that the blind have an 80 percent unemployment rate.

The Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition helped introduce Lowden to cycling on a tandem, finding him a bike for Bike to Work Day last year.

Lowden was able to also buy a tandem bike locally and willing captains, the term for the front rider, among Marmot employees and his step-daughter, with whom he does most of his riding.

For the fondo last year, Lowden designed Blind Power jerseys for him, his step-daughter and several other Marmot employees. Lowden said Marmot and the Red Peloton cycling team of Santa Rosa chipped in for the purchase.

Putting your faith and trust in the captain is, as Lowden puts it, a leap of faith.

It is also not easy to be the captain.

“There is that element of looking twice before pulling out,” said Marmot employee Scott Zeliff of Sebastopol. “Your actions are for two people, so you have that little voice in your head.”

Zeliff is also riding in the fondo Oct. 1, although not as Lowden’s captain, and will be wearing the Blind Power jersey.

“If Chard is doing it, I am flying the flag,” Zeliff said.

You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or bob.norberg@pressdemocrat.com.