Clarksville, TN – In a media career that spanned over 40 years, I’ve been blessed to have met a lot of incredible people. Rock stars, celebrities, politicians and more.
But what I’ve enjoyed the most is meeting people who’ve been dealt a bad hand, but have persevered and made the most of their life. They refuse to let their circumstances dictate who they are.
This is just that kind of story.I first met Tracy Bettencourt in 2010. My friend and local golf pro Jeff Vaughn called me and said he had a new student I needed to meet. I couldn’t understand why, but he just said, “come over here and meet her!”
Tracy Bettencourt is blind.
One thing led to another and she agreed to an interview.
We met several times over the course of a couple of weeks. We took pictures, sat down for interviews and got to know each other. Suddenly, we reached a point where she didn’t want to continue, so the story was never published. I learned later that it was just a terrible time in her life and she didn’t want to do it anymore. Nothing personal.
Fast forward to 2016.
Since we last met, Tracy had moved on from golf, finished her college degree, started painting and discovered motorcycles. It was through the motorcycle that she met the love of her life, Michael Noirot, and they’re inseparable.
“Riding that motorcycle is one of the most thrilling experiences I have” Tracy says. “I feel the world around me and I have total trust in Michael when we ride.” “I can’t see the world around me, but on the back of that motorcycle, I FEEL the world around me in such an incredible way” she said.
I too had just bought a motorcycle and it was at a local biker rally that I saw her again. Much had changed since that first meeting, and both of us had come a long way since, so, let’s begin.
Tracy Bettencourt was 21 years old when she was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa. It’s an incurable disease that results in the total loss of eyesight. Tracy first noticed that she was having trouble seeing at night, then while at work, she noticed it was getting harder and harder to see her computer screen. Her work suffered and eventually, she lost her job.
When she turned 36, the lights went out. She was totally blind.
That was in 2006.
“I just said a prayer and asked God to please help me find my purpose” she would tell me.
Depression set in and there was little help. The resources available from the Tennessee Department for the Blind are limited and it was difficult to get what little assistance she could. She managed to get by, embarking on her college studies and as much help as she could muster.
“I knew that I was going to have to get a grip on my situation and find a way out of this” she said. “So I turned to diet and exercise.”
Tracy would start working with a fitness trainer and nutritionist and would begin competing in fitness championships. She competed in events in Tennessee, beginning in 2007. Not only was she good at it, but she was in peak physical and MENTAL condition.
“When you’re competing, you don’t have time for anything negative in your life. You have to stay focused and I was” she said.
In 2009, she competed in the World Championship, finishing 8th in the competition. She and her trainers had developed her routine, memorizing the number of steps she would need to get to the center of the stage and compete.
She didn’t want any sympathy from the judges.
Her last show would be in 2013, but she did it. She accomplished what she set out to do. Nothing could stand in her way.
“I was challenging myself, and learned that obstacles can be overcome” she said. “Plus, I had to show my daughters that I could do it, but more importantly, so could they.” “I wanted to set an example for them, that nothing can stand in your way, so make up your mind, and be all you can be.”
In 2013, she started painting, and that’s when Tracy learned what her purpose would be. She has had NO formal training or taken any art classes, so how did she turn to painting?
“I went to Hobby Lobby and bought supplies and just started painting.” “It brings me peace and contentment and makes me happy” she would say. “I don’t just paint, I create.”
Tracy never paints the same thing twice. The images she creates come to her constantly. When you see how good they are, you’re equally as
impressed at the fact that she can’t even see her final product. Or at least how WE see it.
Her paintings are amazing, and then you learn they were created by someone who is visually impaired and you’re in total shock and amazement. She truly has a gift and her prayers have been answered and she understands her purpose.
I remember the first time I showed one of Tracy’s paintings to my wife, and like everyone, she thought they were amazing. When I told her
that Tracy had done them, it took her 30 minutes to pick her jaw up off of the floor.
I can’t even draw a stickman.
“I’m in awe of her” said Noirot. “I learn something new with her everyday.”
Tracy paints with acrylics and uses her fingers to paint. Her studio is a testament to her diligence and passion and the walls are filled with remarkable paintings that you would NEVER imagine were created by someone who was visually impaired.
“I was participating in a downtown Art Walk in Clarksville not long ago, when someone approached me about purchasing one of my paintings” said Tracy. “They offered me $200 and I thought, you want to buy one of my paintings?” “I was speechless” she said.
From that point on, Tracy Bettencourt had found her purpose and was off and running.
She’s been commissioned by other art lovers to do exclusive work and now displays her work anywhere she can. She speaks to groups about her accomplishments and overcoming the adversity that threatened to destroy her.
“What I’ve learned over the years through this challenge, is that we have everything we need to survive in this world and it’s all within ourselves” she said.
“Through obstacles and challenges, we gain our strength” she would say. “With faith and love we can continue to teach, learn, inspire and empower those around us.” “If we take our past experiences and allow it to build us up and not break us down, we will accomplish great things” Bettencourt says.
You can meet Tracy Bettencourt and view some of her incredible artwork, at the 32nd Annual Clarksville Swap Meet, February 25th at the Clarksville Speedway. She will be donating 10% of her sales to Camp Rainbow.
There are so many lessons to be learned when you meet someone like Tracy Bettencourt. She reminds us that we really don’t have the problems we think we have.
She reminds us that whatever the obstacle, we can overcome it and we have what we need to survive. I believe that God puts people in our lives for a reason. To remind us of what’s important. To remind us how blessed we are.
So remember Tracy the next time you think you have a problem. We really don’t see what she sees.
To view Tracy’s art, visit her Facebook page here.
For more information about this weekend’s event, click here.