Mike Barnett Hits Curve Balls – and Golf Balls – Despite Loss of Sight
BY DANIEL LONDONO
PHOTOGRAPHY RASE LITTLEFIELD
Some of us sleepwalk through life. It happens to many of us, where we tend to live in a constant state of retrospect. “I should’ve done this differently,” or the ever-popular “What I would give to go back to that time in my life.” It seems like taking things for granted is pre-programmed into being human. We sometimes forget to value the wonderful things we have when we have them, only to miss them when they’re gone. And when we’re sitting in front of those wonderful things and are cognizant of this fact, we have a hard time putting the maxim into practice in the first place. We are human, and thus we err.
Mike Barnett does not fit into this category of people. The Boise local was in his 40s when he started losing his vision due to macular degeneration, and yearning for a simpler, more pleasant time in life was not an option. It was either adapt or crumble. And crumble Mike certainly did not. Mike, a navy veteran, is also a stand-up comedian, actor, Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner and an excellent golfer with a mean swing to boot.
“I don’t know the word quit,” he tells me. And while his journey has been anything but smooth sailing, between the steadfast support of his wife and daughter, his iron will, and his competitive spirit, he has been able to not only adapt but to thrive. He also highlights the maturity and self- sufficiency that the Navy imparted to him.
“Making Sense” was released in 2021, a film that delves into the power of neuroplasticity, a term describing the brain’s ability to adapt, reorganize, and sometimes even compensate for a lacking sensory aspect. Mike plays the role of Toby in the movie, and in his particular case, he shares that his sense of smell and hearing are not necessarily more enhanced since losing his vision but definitely more acute. “My memory is a lot better now,” he says when speaking of the unintended consequences of his vision loss. As far as his role and experience in acting, Mike is unwavering in his love for the craft. “It’s a tough road, but I’m too competitive and I’ll never stop because I love it.”
Mike’s day-to-day passions, aside from acting, include golf and working out, and he recently started a YouTube channel called “Golfing With a Disability.” With the aid of his coach and a lot of geometry, Mike can hit the ball with uncanny precision. The positive effect that physical activity has had on his well-being is clearly immeasurable.
When I asked Mike what advice he would give to people who are struggling, he simply yet poignantly said, “Don’t give up. It’s tough. Life throws you curve balls and you just gotta hit them.” He also stressed the importance of taking the initiative; it is this initiative and outlook that have helped him deal with the two sides of the social coin. The people that look down on him or are entirely oblivious to his disability, and the people who are overly servile to him. As far as what the ideal middle ground would be, he mentioned that seeing the human being before seeing the disability is the key. Alluding to people with disabilities, Mike said “all they want is to be treated like a person. That’s all it is.
In the words of the eternal Aldous Huxley, “Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.” Let us break free from the majority.