[Alumni News]

Aerial Gilbert

Turning Adversity into Outreach

AERIAL GILBERT (‘76) has carried the Olympic torch, rowed in competitions from California to Spain, and been inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. At her side in these accomplishments is faithful companion Splash, a German shepherd guide dog. Gilbert has been blind since 1988 after using eye drops adulterated with lye. “I was that one-in-ten-million person who becomes a random victim of tampering,” Gilbert wrote in Incredible People Magazine.

Gilbert at first retreated to her bedroom, occupying herself with music and audio books. She was lured back to one of her passions, rowing, by an acquaintance from a Bay Area boathouse. “The first time we pushed off the dock the muscle memory kicked in and being able to move in space and be powerful was a gift,” said Gilbert. “For me, being on the water is the only time I forget I’m blind.”

Over the next few years Gilbert learned to navigate life without her vision. She also found the group Guide Dogs for the Blind, where she met her first guide dog, a yellow lab named Webster. Soon she was back at work and volunteering with Guide Dogs and by 1994 she was their full time Director of Volunteers. Today, Gilbert is the group’s outreach manager, educating visually impaired people about the rewards of life with a guide dog.

Gilbert earned her degree in Nursing from Humboldt State in 1976. “All of my interests have come together,” she said. “My nursing background helps me promote active lifestyles and then, through rowing, I’ve been able to introduce blind people to the sport and keep building interest in the U.S. Adaptive team.”