Andre van Hall is a national speaker, workshop facilitator and adjunct professor who just completed his sixth Ride the Rockies
tour, a bike ride that covers more than 400 miles and 32,000 vertical feet. Previously he had a 40-year career managing Hyatt, Radisson, St. Regis and other luxury hotels around the world, and he’s an alumnus of Cornell University. Oh, and he is blind.
Due to a combination of pre-existing conditions, van Hall
lost his eyesight completely in the summer of 2011. At the time the was the CEO of Denver Athletic Club, a prestigious athletic and social club, and he was adjusting to a newly empty nest with his wife in a Denver suburb. Life changed abruptly for the couple, who decided to move closer into the city for better access to public transportation and a more pedestrian-friendly lifestyle.
Van Hall says making lifestyle adjustments and accepting help did not come easily to him. His wife’s birthday rolled around mere weeks after losing his sight, yet he says he was determined to bake her a cake.
“What should have taken me 30 minutes to prepare took me nearly two hours,” he says. “It was so frustrating.” Nearly six years, later he’s identified ways to make his life easier, such as applying a sticky dot on the center button on his microwave so he can figure out where the other numbers are located, and applying toothpaste to his finger before his toothbrush to make sure he’s using the correct amount. He also learned to use a cane for mobility and got Pelham, his guide dog.
“By the time Pelham got to me, $70,000 had been invested into him,” van Hall says. “I call him my Lexus.” Van Hall calls Pelham an “unbelievable people attractor” that helps him in both social and professional situations.
“People don’t know how to approach a blind guy, but if I walk in the door for a speaking engagement, he’s my connector,” van Hall says.
Despite his cane, which he explains is for identifying obstacles, and Pelham, which he says is for avoiding them, van Hall says he’s taken falls and broken bones as a result of what he calls overconfidence in his blindness. The avid cyclist blames his pride for his hesitancy to try a tandem bicycle as well.
“It took me a year to realize I would never ride again and should sell my bike,” he says. When a friend challenged van Hall to complete a 100-mile ride with him on a tandem bike, he was not enthused about the invitation or the lack of control he’d experience.
“The ability to accept help has been a process for me. I was used to being independent, so it was a difficult transition.” Van Hall says he finally decided he could be proud while sitting on the couch or getting on a bike, so he bought a tandem. He’s now completed Ride the Rockies six times—four times when he could see and twice blind on a tandem. He has ridden for Team Samaritan House
, helping to raise $120,000 for the Denver homeless shelter.
Riding without sight gives van Hall the opportunity to engage his other senses.
“I could smell the pine forest and hear the rivers running next to us, and the huffing and puffing of other riders,” he says.
Van Hall devotes his time to motivational speaking engagements and, grilling. His talks center around the idea of approaching life with an attitude of curiosity, something he’s done through this life transition.
“Instead of simply continuing with life,” he shares, “my curiosity pushed me to flourish.”