On Nov. 11, 2004, U.S. Army Capt. Tim Hornik was on patrol in Baghdad when he was shot in the head by a sniper. It resulted in the total loss of his eyesight.
Since then, the 38-year-old has been on a mission to demonstrate that people with impaired vision can do anything.
Hornik was among 13 visually impaired veterans who regularly receive treatment and support from the Veteran’s Administration who were the special guests of the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night in their game against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium on the 17th anniversary of 9/11.
“I’m ecstatic that this all came together,” Hornik said. “You can’t replace what the VA does for veterans.”
Hornik threw out the ceremonial first pitch Tuesday night. Flanked by program members and active duty members of the armed forces – as well as his service dog Barney, a black Labrador – the right-hander stood in front of the mound, was directed where to throw and tossed the pitch to backup catcher Cam Gallagher.
The pre-game ceremonies on Armed Forces Night included the color guard from Fort Leavenworth and a flyover by a Stealth bomber from Whiteman Air Force Base.
There are approximately 200 veterans in the VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System’s visually impaired program.
“They leave me speechless,” said Dawn Clouse, program director. “They are such special people. Tim is a perfect example. He’s all about other people. He’s all about educating that visually impaired people can do anything.”
After the first pitch Tuesday night, Hornik was presented the ball. He then gave the ball to Clouse, who organized the trip along with Joe Burks, public affairs officer for the VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System.
Clouse said the VA tries to do at least two significant outings each year with the visually impaired group.
“The group is just veterans coming together to interact and regain a sense of independence,” Hornik said.
Not all of the veterans are 100 percent blind. Clouse said the majority of the members in the group have age-related or disease-related visual impairments. Only a few, like Hornik, are blind because of combat injuries.
Bernard Hoffman, a 93-year-old World War II veteran of the Army Air Corps, is a member of the program as well. He visited throughout the evening with Hornik and others at the game.
“He’s very personable and congenial,” Hoffman said. “This program is good for him and all of us. It’s a marvelous program.”
Hornik was just as impressed with Hoffman.
“The intergenerational aspect of this program is an amazing thing,” Hornik said. “They have some amazing stories. For us in the younger generation, we are carrying their stories into the future.”
Hornik is the CEO of the Blind Not Alone organization and serves as the director of District 2 of the Blinded Veterans Association.
He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife and daughters. In addition to his outreach efforts in support of the visually impaired, he takes part in adaptive sports such as tandem cycling and running.
“It’s a honor to be able to recognize veterans who have done so much for our country on Armed Forces Day, especially our visually impaired veterans here tonight,” said Rudy Klopfer, director of the VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System.