I fell in love with braille when I learnt it in 2001. I was 35 at the time — four years after I had gone blind and just two weeks after my husband had left me and my two boys. When my husband left, I had to adapt yet again, this time to single blind parenting. Learning braille was a deliberate act of doing something positive when everything else was negative. Early in 2009, I travelled to Paris with my new love, Ron, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of braille inventor Louis Braille. The birthday celebrations ended at Braille’s birthplace 40km out of Paris. I put my hands on the raised letters Braille’s father had placed on a board so he could read print letters. It was magic.
We went to Cairo and explored the ancient city. My fingers were able to explore the Pyramids of Giza as I walked up the mighty structures. Symbols such as the key of life as well as Ramses II’s upper leg were not safe from this blind woman’s exploration.
We went into Jordan where we took a dip in the Dead Sea. Being blind yet buoyant was an unforgettable sensory experience. I came home a different person.
On our return, I emailed the managing director of Innovative Travel, the New Zealand company who organised our tour to say ‘thank you’. Robyn Galloway replied, saying she was considering running tours for blind and vision-impaired people and asked if Ron and I would be interested in leading them. Would we what! I had only two words in reply: “Why not?”
Visiting The Seven Wonders Of The World
Woods trip to France, Egypt and Jordan was just the beginning of her extraordinary travel adventures. During their time in Jordan, Julie and Ron visited Petra, which they discovered was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. “And | said to Ron, ‘What are the other six?’ He went away and researched them and said, ‘Do you want to visit the Seven Wonders of the World’? And | said, ‘Why not?”
Woods also managed to travel to 50 countries by the time she was 50 (she has now been to 54 countries). A melanoma diagnosis in 2015 prompted Woods to further expand her travel horizons — when she found out she was clear of the disease, the trip planning began. “We left the hospital and went straight round to the travel agent and wrote a bucket-list trip of places we wanted to go to before we died.” They went away for 107 days, which took Woods’ country count to 49. “I was 49 years of age at that stage, and I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to go to 50 countries by the time | was 507” She celebrated her 50th birthday in Samoa. Travel is not the only thing Woods has achieved in the 13 years since we last heard from her. She has also walked 10 half marathons; published two more books (she published her first in 2009) and walked every street in Dunedin. She is now working towards a goal of writing a million names in braille, with her current tally at the time of writing at 26,091. Woods says her mantra of saying ‘Why not?’ to opportunities that come her way has enabled her to live life to the fullest.
“I’ve continued to say ‘Why not?’ and it’s continued to provide me with wonderful opportunities to live life as a daring adventure, as Helen Keller would say. She said that life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Saying ‘why not’ has indeed helped me live my life as an adventure.”