Playing with toy trucks saved my sight. That is a very dramatic statement, no doubt about it, but it is true. After losing all vision in my left eye and roughly 85% of the sight in my right eye I wasn’t sure that I would ever hold a transmitter again. With the help of a close knit community of like-minded scale gear-heads and the loving foot-to-rear encouragement of my wife we took the first of many small steps to get me back behind the wheel of my tiny trucks. At first it was disheartening; I fell quite a bit, drove the truck into culverts, stepped in all manners of animal “presents” among a host of other embarrassing situations that taught me to keep going no matter what. Over time my eye was able to focus on moving objects with more accuracy, I was walking with more confidence, and noticing that my field of vision was improving. One year past surgery and my eyesight was 20/200, which was better than we had even hoped for, and I believe I wouldn’t have that if it weren’t for the support of my family, the best retinal care team in the US and RC. Granted I am still considered legally blind but I am no longer having to be lead around like an over-sized dog on a leash and that’s a vast improvement for me.
I want to pass along a few of the tips that helped me along the way in hopes that it may help anyone else who is facing the same challenges. I can’t make any guarantees that this will work for everyone but it may be a helpful tool in the recovery process.
Choose a large vehicle that is slow moving and is a color that is easy for you to see. When it came time for me to try driving again I chose an Axial SCX10 Dingo RTR. The truck was extremely reliable, only requiring a fresh battery and a mild wipe-down before the next run to be ready to go. My wife painted a Pro-Line Bronco in metallic orange for the truck as that is the easiest color for my eye to see. Choosing a color that stands out to you is a big help, making tracking the vehicle that much easier.
The SCX10 is a fairly large vehicle in itself (for a 1/10 scale, especially with its large square Bronco body shell) but going to a larger scale such as 1/8 or 1/5 would make the initial work that much easier. Companies such as Redcat Racing (with their 1/8 Rockslide and 1/5 Clawback crawlers) or RC4wd (who offers a 1/4 scale, the Killer Crawler) can be a great resource for larger vehicles.
Start simple and work your way up from there. Even though driving a slow-moving rock crawler in a driveway or parking lot may not sound enjoyable it is a good place to start. There are fewer trip hazards, the chance of the truck getting away from you is reduced and the color of the body will stand out against the pavement making things easier to see. Realistically you won’t be going on trail runs right off the bat but that’s okay, you’ll get there with time, practice, and patience. As your skills improve and your confidence builds, move up to more challenging terrain. Maybe start with a grass field or a playground (that you have legal access to); either can be a fun challenge for both you and the truck.
If you find that the stock motor in your truck is too fast don’t be afraid to switch to a “slower” setup. Most ready-to-run crawlers on the market arrive with a 27-35 turn motor which can be a little fast when starting out. If you find that you are having trouble focusing on something moving that quickly (relatively quickly, as it were) don’t be ashamed to swap out the motor for something in the 55 turn (or higher) range. Doing so will not only make the truck easier to track but will also be easier on the electronics and will make your batteries last longer per charge. Companies such as Integy, Redcat Racing, and RC4WD make motors up to 100 turns which will definitely slow things down to a more comfortable pace. Once you’re able to focus on the truck with more accuracy switch back to the stock setup for a new challenge.
Re-learn how to work on your own vehicles. At first it may seem like this will never happen but given time and practice the day will come. Utilize items such as lighted magnifiers if you can’t see fine details. Implement a pit light into your workspace to shed some light on the project. This is where having a larger vehicle can come in handy again; the parts are larger and easier to see and that can make maintenance a more enjoyable task.
Color coded tools can make a big difference once it’s time to start wrenching again. I use a set of hex drivers with bright anodizing that is unique to each size. This makes it easy to identify the different sizes at a glance and reduces the time spent searching for the small engraved numbers stamped on each tool that can be difficult to find even for someone with perfect vision. Tool and parts organization are key as well. Set up your work area in a way that is easy for you to find things. I use a CowRC pit mat any time that I am working on an RC. The magnetic surface prevent screws from rolling off the bench and the individual divided compartments keep everything separated and organized.
Get out and exercise with the truck. If it is safe take a walk with your truck. Exercise will not only help you physically but can improve your mood and help in the recovery process. Taking the truck along will take your mind off of the fact that you are exercising and following the truck in changing light situations will help the eye focus on its target. Making your workout less like work and more like play will encourage you to do it more often.
As your vision improves, continue to test yourself by driving the truck further and further away. If at first you can only see a few feet, keep working until you can see 10 feet. Once you’ve reached that milestone try for 20. Before you know it you’ll be focusing on objects at distances you didn’t think possible. For best results and to minimize the risk of eye strain take small steps and become comfortable at each distance before moving on. Trying to immediately go 100 feet away is only going to stress your eyes and discourage you from continuing to make progress.
As you become more comfortable with slower vehicles, begin to work your way up. At first it may be just be re-installing your stock motor but each step is progress. Focusing on a small vehicle moving at a decent pace can be challenging and expecting to go from a crawler’s pace (3-5 mph) to that of a brushless on-road racer (60 mph and up) is most likely not going to be possible. Start out simple; possibly with a basic ready-to-run basher that is capable of 15-20 mph. Follow the same steps as before and work your way up from the driveway with the new truck and its faster speed.
When your skills and sight improve try testing yourself against others. Organize a trail ride with some like-minded crawler enthusiasts or get together for a bash session with others in your area. Trying to focus on multiple moving targets can be tricky so be prepared for a reality check. It is a fun way to test yourself and get back into the social aspect of the hobby. Posting group gatherings on social media or genre specific forums is a great way to get others involved and that support can be a good celebration of how far you’ve come so far.
Don’t be afraid to celebrate the little milestones. When you finally go out for a run without tripping over a parking curb or you drive a whole battery without crashing, celebrate it. You’ve earned it! The first time I went outside to run my truck by myself I felt like I was on top of the world. Looking back it seems insignificant now but at the time it was the first affirmation that I could do this again. Each small step is a step toward your goal and deserves to be recognized.
My hope is that this will help others in a similar situation. Below is a list of links to websites that have products that can help in the process.
Axial Racing: http://www.axialracing.com/
Pro-Line Racing: https://www.prolineracing.com/
CowRC Products: https://cowrc.com/
Redcat Racing: http://www.redcatracing.com/Advanced-Search?sType=Vehicle#prodtype=Vehicle#mdt=Crawler