Student paints his way to gold, despite visual impairment

Auto Body Tech student was born partially blind in left eye

Brendan DeSchover has been helping his dad fix used cars since he was old enough to carry a wrench. But when it came time to see how his car painting skills stack up against the best in Alberta and Canada, the second-year Auto Body Technician hesitated.

Brendan DeSchover at SkillsDeSchover is partially blind in his left eye due to an undeveloped optic nerve, which only added to his doubts about competing at the recent provincial Skills Canada-Alberta competition in Edmonton, followed by nationals the next day. The hands-on competitions test the skills of students across Alberta and Canada and act as a showcase for the trades and technology-focused programs.

“I didn’t know whether to enter the competition or not, being blind. You think everybody else has an advantage over you,” says DeSchover, who lives and works  in Lloydminster.

“When you think about it, you do this stuff every day. You do the best you can do and forget about it.”

Fortunately, his parents felt differently and coaxed him into competing, with some help from instructor Cecile Bukmeier (Auto Body Technician ’15). When the paint spray settled, DeSchover ended up taking gold at provincials and earned the right to compete nationally.

Participants in the vehicle painting category were given four tasks to complete in four hours, from polishing a car hood and refinishing it in one colour to a three-stage paint job in a blend of two tones.

Hearing his name get called and going to the stage to collect his medal was “awesome,” DeSchover says, just like the entire experience.

When it came time to perform, he shoved self-doubt aside and focused on the skills and training that he uses on the job.

“When you think about it, you do this stuff every day. You do the best you can do and forget about it,” he says.

Competition opens industry doors

A little self doubt isn’t uncommon for any student competing for the first time, says Bukmeier. She hadn’t even heard of skills when she was a student. Any doubts she had were erased with the gold medals she won at provincial and nationals. She credits the experience for boosting her confidence and introducing her to important people in the industry.

“It all tied into where my career went. It can open a lot of doors for you,” she says. “You meet people across Canada who could potentially help you in the future. People don’t forget when you compete.”

Bukmeier now acts as an unofficial skills ambassador, encouraging students like DeSchover to compete. She can’t give them too much coaching, but she can help them practice. She opened up the lab at NAIT an extra five extra hours twice a week.

Brendan DeSchover at Skills

Bukmeier says getting comfortable working in front of people is one of the biggest hurdles initially. The painting booth at the Edmonton Expo Centre, where the competition was held, is transparent.

“That’s one of the challenges when you’re just learning, having hundreds of people watching, and watching your mistakes. It can be pretty intimidating.”

Though he didn’t take home a medal at nationals, DeSchover says the entire experience was positive and he’s glad he gave in to the gentle prodding. He learned a lot about himself in the process, including his ability to work under pressure in that type of fishbowl setting.

“Once you get there, you forget about everybody watching and you just go with the flow. You try your best, that’s all you can do,” he says. “I’m glad I did it. I’d do it again, if I could.”

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