Isaac Jean-Paul says the first time his family realized he was visually impaired was when he was a toddler in Evanston.

“What made them take me to the doctor was me running into walls and coffee tables,” he explains.

Then two-year-old Isaac was diagnosed with juvenile retinoschisis, which restricts his vision. He has tunnel vision in his left eye, and is totally blind in that eye at night. His right eyesight is also weak in daylight, and overall, his vision is “nowhere near 20/20.”

“I can’t see small print, and can’t drive,” he explains. “But I’ve lived my entire life learning to navigate the world in other ways.”

One of those ways is speed. Another is strength. The 28-year-old is a member of the US Paralympic Team for athletes with physical challenges, and unless his upcoming event trials are a disaster, he will represent the U.S. in the Paralympic Games in Tokyo later this summer in the long jump, and perhaps, if the trials go even better than expected, in the 100 meter dash as well.

That is, of course, if the Olympics and Paralympics actually take place. Postponed from last year due to COVID-19, there is growing opposition in Japan to the Games this year for the same reason.

While organizers and the Japanese government insist the events will take place, the U.S. government is advising Americans not to travel to Japan due to the ongoing coronavirus.

However, the Olympic and Paralympic teams will attend if the games are on, and Jean-Paul is looking forward to competing against the best athletes in the world.

“I always wanted to be great at what I do,” he says. In fact, when he was younger, Jean-Paul wrote up a list of goals. “I want to be an Olympian” was on that list.

Isaac lived in Evanston through elementary school, and has fond memories of sports and activities at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center. He moved to Gurnee for high school. However, he still has a lot of relatives in his birthplace community, and is a member of a large Haitian-American family, whose patriarch, Pierre Jean-Paul, of Evanston, passed away three years ago.

Isaac became an All-American track athlete at Lewis University in Oak Brook, winning a national indoor championship in the high jump in 2015. He now lives in San Diego as he works out at the Olympic Training Center.

Jean-Paul says he is “not really worried” about coronavirus while in Japan, and is not getting vaccinated. It’s a personal preference, he explains, adding “I have extremely strong faith. God places obstacles and it’s our responsibility to overcome them as best we can.”

“As long as I have my mask and my gloves I’m bound for Tokyo,” he says.

But just in case the Tokyo games are called off, Jean-Paul says, “if it gets cancelled I’l still be around for 2024 in Paris,” the year and location of the next Olympic and Paralympic games.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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