(WIVB) — Today a Cattaraugus County woman begins a lengthy canoe trip, for two important causes. She’ll be going 444 miles down the Susquehanna River over the next few weeks.

Life is about working through the conditions you’re given and weathering the storm. Sandy Parisi understands that analogy better than most.

“We’re going down the Susquehanna River, which is 444 miles and maybe becoming a member of the 444 club,” said Sandy Parisi.

While that’s an incredible accomplishment in itself, Sandy is making this trip, almost completely blind.
A progressive eye disease, Retinitis Pigmentosa, has slowly taken her vision over the past 30 years.

“It’s an adjustment you know and this trip is going to be a challenge. But this trip is going to be exciting and I think we’re up for it,” she said.

Russ, her husband of 43 years, will be by her side through it all. Her guide dog, Sierra, is also coming along for the two week canoe trip.

Sandy’s goal is to raise awareness and funding for guiding eyes for the blind, an organization that means a great deal to her.

“Twenty years ago was my first experience with Guiding Eyes for the Blind,” said Parisi. “I received my first guide dog which totally opened up my world. It gave me more opportunities, I became more confident and I was given more independence. So I owe them.”

She’s also raising money to cure Muscular Dystrophy. Her grandson, 4-year-old, James is weathering his own storm. And the way he makes the best of his situation gives her strength.

“James is the inspiration that motivates me to do something it’d never envision, “said Parisi. “And that’s what this trip is all about.”

While Sandy has been inspired by others, she’s her husband’s inspiration. “Every day you never know what it’s going to bring,” said Russ Parisi. Sometimes not such good things like her eye disease, but like all humans you struggle and you get stronger.”

If you want to donate to either cause, head here.

Gabrielle Mediak is a reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2019. See more of her work here.