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A blind photographer’s road to the Special Olympics World Games

As a young child, David Jensen dreamed of NBA stardom. All he thought about was basketball — and then one day, his life was upended.

Born with a developmental disability and epilepsy, Jensen underwent brain surgery to help alleviate seizures, but during the procedure, he had a stroke. The then-11-year-old awoke legally blind — with only 20 percent vision in his left eye and none in his right. He thought his future as an athlete was shattered.

Over the next weeks and months, Jensen had to learn how to walk, talk and even eat again. Although those skills slowly returned, he vision didn’t, and the athlete inside of him remained devastated. “I didn’t know who I was anymore,” he said. “I was just so depressed because the only identity I had before was a basketball player.”

That’s when a therapist suggested Special Olympics, an organization that gives athletes with intellectual disabilities an opportunity to play sports. Tennis was the first available option, so Jensen gave it a try. Initially, he couldn’t properly track the movement of the ball, but he adapted quickly. “My tennis coach did more for me in those weeks than the therapist did over, like, a month,” he said.

Within a year, he says he had won a gold medal at a Special Olympics competition — a sign of renewed athletic prowess. “Tennis, in that regard, saved my life,” Jensen said.

In 2015, Jensen barely missed out on the U.S. team for the Special Olympics World Games, a global event that showcases top athletes. Still, he traveled all the way from his home outside Denver to Los Angeles to cheer on the friend who beat him for the spot. He took his camera with him.

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