Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Patrick Finley: His vision comes from dedication

Patrick Finley: His vision comes from dedication

  • Updated

You can get to London from Tucson by bus. Don't believe me? Ask Tanner Gers, who, for months last year, spent his Saturdays waking up an hour before the sun rose and riding shotgun in his wife's car toward the Greyhound station downtown.

Rosa would escort her husband, and his track gear, onto a morning bus bound for Mesa, and say goodbye.

With help from the bus workers, he'd exit at the right stop two hours later in Mesa, where he was picked up by and driven to Arizona Disabled Sports.

Then the Sabino High School and Pima College graduate would do the whole thing again, in reverse, taking an extra bus to get back to his house by 3 p.m.

That's 10 hours of travel for two hours of training.

Complicating matters: Gers is blind.

If you've ever met the inspired and inspiring Gers, though, you knew that wouldn't slow him down.

It hasn't yet.

"When he first started travelling on Greyhound, I was really nervous that he would get run over," Rosa said, with a nervous chuckle. "God has always had him by his hand."

On March 28, 2004, Gers was in a single-car crash while driving toward his parents' house in Vail. His car rolled down an embankment.

A tree crashed through the windshield and impaled his face.

He lost vision in his left eye immediately; 19 days later, the right eye went, too, the result of brain swelling.

He suffered brain and spinal cord injuries. He said he "shattered his face." His left cheek, nose and jaw are now reinforced with plates and implants.

When I first met Gers three years ago, he was playing "beep baseball," a sport in which he's since been named MVP.

He told me, then, about the joy of pounding his old baseball glove after the accident, and the thrill he had returning to athletics. They injected fun, and normalcy, back into his life.

Gers, now 29, played varsity football, wrestling and lacrosse in high school. He pole-vaulted to weasel out of sprinting.

"I was never a track guy," he said.

Now, 14 months after starting the sport, he's among America's best.

The U.S. Paralympic team will be announced July 2, immediately after the three-day trials in Indianapolis.

Gers figures to be on it.

He's already met the long jump A-standard of 5.93 meters and will sprint in London if he can reach minimum requirements for the 100 and 200 meters at trials.

"It would be a complete game-changer," he said. "I'd be living the dream."

His travels this year make Mesa seem easy.

Gers - a senior at the UA - wasn't invited to live at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., like other star athletes.

He moved near San Diego anyway in May, with help from Tucson-area donors, including Jim Click, plus friends and family.

He trains at the OTC five days a week and was recently invited to move in, albeit temporarily.

It's the longest he's ever been apart from his wife, a schoolteacher.

"It's a desire to be a champion," he said. "To live my dream, and fulfill it."

In the long jump, Gers listens to a cadence from a "jump caller" as he nears the lift-off line. In sprints, he runs alongside his guide, Jay Slade, who is tethered with a resistance band they keep around their fingers. He gives Gers verbal cues to turn.

Slade is his fifth guide in Gers' eight career meets, and by far the best.

Gers tried to find guides on Craigslist before, but they're not fast enough.

"I just smoke them," he said.

His coach, Willie Caldwell of Tucson's Mobility Fitness Institute, said Gers could do the same to athletes in England.

He called Gers, who in November won long jump gold at the Parapan American Games, "one of the most explosive athletes I've ever been around."

Gers' work ethic, Caldwell said, " is going to put him on the podium."

That's the hope - though making the team is reward itself.

"That's what I've been working so hard for," Gers said. "That's why my wife has been taking me out to the track and taking me to the gym and getting the brunt of my frustrations sometimes.

"It would just mean so much to me."

how to help

Tanner Gers receives 100 percent of all donations made in his name to the United States Association of Blind Athletes.

You can donate by putting his name in the comments box of the "Donate" page on, or by sending a check to the USABA at 1 Olympic Plaza, Colorado Springs, Colo., 80909.

The proceeds go toward Gers' training for the Paralympics.

Subscribe to stay connected to Tucson. A subscription helps you access more of the local stories that keep you connected to the community.

Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News