Good ‘VIBES’ for the blind

Visually impaired and blind people have a new opportunity for staying active, thanks to Club VIBES.

Sue Buckley, who lost her sight in her 30s and founded Club VIBES (Visually Impaired/Blind Enhanced Services) in 2008, spoke to Rotary Club of Farragut members about the organization during their meeting in Fox Den Country Club Wednesday, June 13.

Club VIBES is a free mentoring service for visually impaired or blind youth and their parents or guardians residing in and around Knox and Blount counties.

Buckley said she initially noticed the change in her vision when she was 9 years old. She was sitting in class and could not see the black board and thought there was something in her eye.

“A fuzzy dark spot appeared in the center and slowly extended outward,” Buckley recalled. She eventually lost all of her vision.

“I was scared,” she said. “It was like a new world.”

However, Buckley learned to adjust and decided she wanted to help others like her.

“I wanted to start a group and give people the freedom to fly independently,” she said. Buckley uses the tandem bikes to promote confidence, as well as an active lifestyle and break down barriers.

As part of VIBES, recipients enjoy bike rides on tandem bicycles with help from sighted volunteers. It also helps recipients find jobs and learn technology.

Rotarian Tom Marsh said he learned about Buckley in February through Missy Kane, Olympic distance runner and Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame member, and Kane’s husband, sports attorney Jim Bemiller.

“We’ve known each other for at least 10 years now,” Bemiller said about Buckley. “We met at a bike race. Missy was doing the Cherohala Challenge —and dragging me along — and Sue was president of the Smoky Mountain Wheelmen, which is one of the largest bike clubs in the country.

“Missy and Sue got together and we got involved in Club VIBES,” he added. “It’s near to my heart because my dad has a degenerative eye disease (retinitis pigmentosa) and lost his sight.

“Sue found out we had a tandem [two-seater bike], and she recruited us.”

He also met Sue’s husband, John, a former University of Tennessee professor, who also is blind.

Their impairment does not prevent them from being active. Buckley has a legal Tennessee driver’s license but added she does not drive.

“I renew it every year in the state of Tennessee in person,” she said. “That’s the scary part.”

Club VIBES is made up of volunteers who help youth transition into independent adults.

Buckley, who grew up in Illinois, enjoyed sports as a youth. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in education from Illinois State University and had a 25-year career with YMCA, first in Iowa and then in Tennessee.

To continue the operation, she said the organization needs volunteers, whether they are tandem pilots or employers willing to hire those being served by the organization, and financial support.

For more information about Club VIBES, visit