URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — Imagine you’re a kid, running around at recess when in one split second, your life changes forever. That’s the reality for Chris Jeckel who called Urbana home growing up — but he’s not letting this setback hold him back.
“My vision was, I guess, really good till I was 9 years old,” Jeckel explained.
He was on a playground at Leal Elementary School when he was hit in the head with a soccer ball. That accident caused a retinal detachment and Jeckel could no longer see out of his right eye. It got worse seven years later.
“When I got to be 16, it went from half a loaf to a couple of pieces of bread,” he described. “Better than no bread at all but almost like looking through a blurry window pane.”
Jeckel knows things happen and he’s learned how to push through.
“It builds character! It made me who I am, it made me persistent, it made me never accept no for an answer,” he said.
One of those challenges is loneliness. He remembers feeling isolated.
“Not being able to make eye contact with people. That was one of the harder aspects for me to get used to,” he said.
So, he wanted to do something about it. Jeckel got involved with acroyoga about five years ago. It’s an activity with circus roots.
“It is the ability to stand and spin on friends,” he said. “To move your partner through the air. To lift or be lifted but do so in a safe, consensual way.”
Jeckel’s not letting his blindness be a barrier. He’s lifting others up in more ways than one.
“This has become something that has filled my life with joy, lifelong friends, and just a global community,” he said.
He has met people all over the world with different backgrounds and challenges.
“You hear this common message that once they find their voice or their confidence or their place in this circle, just how much that helps these past challenges,” Jeckel said.
Now, he’s getting ready to share his story and more in a documentary called “Touching the Sky.” It’s about how acro activities can change lives. Jeckel said it also shines a light on the trust, communication, mutual respect and consent involved.
“I think we want people to know that there is something out there. If you feel left behind, if you feel left out, here’s this thing that might not be for you but it could be an effective tool in the toolbox for people to get reconnected,” he said.
Now, Jeckel is a lawyer with Boeing in Chicago. He makes sure to come back to Urbana often to visit family.
For those who want to try acroyoga out, Chris and his crew are coming to Downtown Champaign Sept. 23. They’re hosting a free workshop at Living Legacy Pilates from 12-1:30 p.m. You can sign up by using this email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To support the film’s creation process, you can make a donation at this link. All donations are 100% tax deductible.
Jeckel hopes to make more filming progress next year and get the documentary into festivals in 2025.