Throwback Thursday

A co-worker found an article about me in an old magazine that was internally published by Anadarko back in December 2002. The text of the article is below, but first a few updates:

  • The child we were expecting was a girl, who is 16 now.
  • I currently have very limited light perception and use screen reading technology exclusively.
  • I still have not learned how to read Braille. So, I listen too lots of books and discuss them with my daughter and son,  oftentimes more than they want.
  • It took me until 2009 to make my first U.S. Adaptive Water Ski Team and will be heading to Norway with the 2019 Adaptive Water Ski Team in July.
  • I am using my 4th successor dog since Cody, she is a Fidelco German Shepherd named Subi.

Michael Royal Feature – People Nov/Dec 2002

Mike and Cody on the back of a ski boat

Never Say “Never”

The words, “I can’t,” aren’t in Michael Royal’s vocabulary.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Nebraska in 1990 and his MBA in 1993. He’s run 15 marathons, won a bronze medal in an alpine downhill ski championship and placed second in a national water skiing championship. And he did it all while legally blind.

Mike wasn’t born blind. When he was five years old, his kindergarten teacher noticed that he couldn’t see anything when she turned off the classroom lights to show a film. He was consequently diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa – a hereditary disease that causes degeneration of the retina and progressive loss of vision. There is no cure, and eventually Mike became legally blind by the time he was 18 years old.

The Tunnel

When he graduated from high school, Mike could only see what was directly in front of him as if he was looking through a tunnel. And that tunnel has grown smaller each year. When a person stands in front of him these days, he can only see a fraction of that person’s face. From a few feet away, he only sees their outline.

Attempting to hide his progressive condition in college, Mike avoided situations that revealed his loss of vision – a night out on the town or a crowded room – by working 40 hours a week as a system analyst and training for his first marathon, while pursuing a double major. “I had a phobia about losing my sight,” says Mike. “I didn’t think I could stand listening to all the blind jokes.

The Best Kind of Friends

“But I came out of the blind closet in 1993 when I admitted to myself that I needed help and attended the Leader Dog School for the Blind where I adopted Cody.” Cody is the black Labrador retriever that can always be found at Mike’s side.

Mike has adopted a few other helpful companions along the way as well. He ran his first Boston Marathon in 1993, navigating his way through the throng of runners by placing his hand on his stepfather Bill’s right shoulder.

After taking a job with Union Pacific Resources as an information systems auditor in 1996, he moved to Ft. Worth, Texas, where he trained with a running guide named Ricky Cox. They maneuvered through the crowded streets of marathons by holding onto opposite ends of a looped shoestring. And that shoestring is the method Mike’s Anadarko friends use to guide him through the running trails of The Woodlands these days.

Technology Auditor

Mike moved to The Woodlands to work as the information technology audit manager in the Corporate Audit Department when Anadarko merged with Union Pacific Resources. He reviews the current policies, procedures and routines the company has in place to be sure that software packages, data networks and voice and data communications systems are achieving their goals and that proper security is in place to assure only authorized users have access to the systems. Then he submits an audit report to management that includes his recommendations for improvement.

He also works with information technology services (ITS) and other department team members and management on the implementation of new technology systems before they are launched within the company to help assure that each new system starts off on the right foot.

“Mike has been auditing anything to do with computer systems, data centers and data security for almost 10 years so he has a very extensive knowledge of these systems and how to audit them,” says his supervisor Russell Maxey, manager, corporate audit. “And he’s an excellent supervisor because he knows how to communicate that knowledge to others.”

A Gift

“I didn’t realize that the gift of knowledge is the best gift until I went to work for Mike,” adds Pamela Roberts, one of his direct reports. “His disability actually gives him a creative side. He’s not restrained by what he can see. As a consequence, he has a better grasp on concepts and how to communicate them. He always makes sure I understand what I’m evaluating and why I’m doing it.”

People often wonder how Mike can handle his job without vision. For one thing, the color scheme displayed on his computer screen is the opposite of a typical employee’s screen – the words on Mike’s are white and the background is black so he is able to read with specialized glasses. But he knows that one day soon, he will be completely reliant on audio devices and the Braille reading system. And he is preparing in advance by utilizing a tool called Job Access with Speech (JAWS), a system that speed-reads out loud everything that crosses a computer screen.

No Limits

“There are no limits to what Mike can do,” says Russell Maxey. “He amazes me by what he is able to accomplish. He has no fear, dread or roadblocks.”

Mike’s responsibility extends across all of the company’s worldwide offices so his job often takes him on the road. In fact, it was on a weekend excursion to Heron Lake during a business trip to the company’s Uxbridge office that Mike got a taste of his latest passion – competitive water skiing. Not long after he returned to Houston, he participated in a competition clinic at Texas Adaptive Aquatics on Lake Houston where he met Bill Bowness.

Bill, who is paralyzed from the waist down, runs a water-skiing program during the summer months and is a snow-ski instructor in the winter. And now, he’s Mike’s water skiing coach as well. Mike’s next athletic goal is to win a spot on the U.S. Disabled Water Skiing Team that competes internationally. He plans to accomplish this feat by winning all three events in the 2003 national disabled water skiing championships next summer. This year, he placed second in the audio slalom event. He’ll also have to master trick skiing and jumping to win the overall competition next year.

“By actively participating in life and proving that goals are attainable, I hope I can inspire others to pursue their dreams, too,” Mike adds. He pursues opportunities to inspire others by giving motivational speeches he calls, “If Mike can do it, why can’t you?” to corporate and athletic groups across the nation.

Volunteering for Anadarko’s Junior Achievement program gives Mike a venue to motivate kids to reach their goals, too. With his partners Pamela Roberts and Meredith Sipko, he taught a sixth-grade class at Travis Elementary School in Conroe, Texas, every Wednesday morning for five weeks.

Mike and his wife Wendy are expecting their own child in December and Mike claims, “My most important goal this year is learning how to read children’s books in Braille so I can read out loud to my own son or daughter at home.”

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