Follow me! GRCC professor Jesse Crandall guides bicyclist who is blind on challenging, cross-country rides

Shawn Cheshire rode across the country on her bicycle, depending on Grand Rapids Community College professor Jesse Crandall to guide her every bit of the two-month, 3,700-mile trek.

Cheshire is a Paralympian who is blind and competes in a variety of sports at the international level. Through a friendship with the GRCC chemistry professor, she has added bicycling to her activities, traversing the country, meeting and inspiring people all along the way.

Crandall said both teaching and guiding are about helping others through obstacles.

“For many students, introductory chemistry is something they have no experience with,” said Crandall, a GRCC associate professor of chemistry. “So, when I’m teaching, it helps to think about my experiences coaching my friend Shawn, who is totally blind. Then I try talking about the lesson in a language that, hopefully, everybody can understand.”

That gift for guiding students was born of a longtime friendship — and many record-breaking escapades — with best friend Shawn Cheshire, an Army veteran, Paralympian and renowned adventure-seeker who is blind.

Following her years in the military, Cheshire became an EMT/paramedic. During a 2009 snowstorm, she slipped while treating a patient in an ambulance and sustained a traumatic brain injury that resulted in total vision loss.

Sports and physical challenges ignited her competitive spirit and helped her confront her blindness, she said.

“You have to want to live,” Cheshire said. “For me, I wanted to be someone I could be proud of.”

Crandall and Cheshire have been skiing, climbing, running and bicycling together for the past decade. They met in New York when Cheshire, in search of greater independence, decided to learn cross-country skiing.

“Here was this woman who was blind and had never seen someone cross-country ski because she grew up in Texas, where you don’t find much snow,” said Crandall, a top skier and former ski coach who was in Syracuse earning his doctorate in chemistry. “She had no way to visualize cross-country skiing or recall seeing someone else do it.”

But that never stopped Cheshire — or Crandall.

Cheshire not only learned to ski, she earned a spot on Team USA and was the first blind woman to compete in biathlon (skiing and rifle shooting) for the U.S. Paralympic Nordic ski team. She has since competed for Team USA in both summer and winter sports.

Since the Rio Olympics in 2016, Cheshire has focused on competing in awe-inspiring athletic feats to challenge social norms for the blind.

Instead of her eyes, she relies on her ears — and on Crandall to show her the way.

In 2018, the pair and two friends faced the steep terrain of the Grand Canyon, completing a rim-to-rim-to-rim double crossing in just over 24 hours. As they walked 42 miles through the night, Cheshire listened for warnings of obstacles from Crandall and the other guides, as well as the noise of the bell the lead hiker wore, which sounded as they walked.

“There was lots and lots of climbing and lots and lots of descending,” Crandall said. “She did it in just over 24 hours, which is the world record for any blind person doing it.”

In 2021, Cheshire set another world record by riding her own bicycle — not a tandem — from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. The cross-country trek took 60 days and covered 3,700 miles.

It wasn’t easy.

“We had two-way radios in our helmets, and I had a speaker on the back of my bike; I would give her directions and describe road conditions — if we were moving right or left and any hazards — and she would follow my sound,” Crandall said.

They are accompanied for a portion of the trip by Steve Martin, a U.S. Army veteran who lost his legs below the knees in an explosion in Afghanistan.

Last year, Cheshire biked the Tour Divide, a 2,700-mile mountain bike race along the mountain passes and windswept valleys of the Continental Divide from Banff, Canada, to the Mexico border with Crandall and another friend. It was the worst weather in the history of the race and more than half of the riders who started the race dropped out, according to Cheshire’s website here

They finished the race in 50 days, cycling through snow, mud, hail, rain, freezing temperatures and triple-digit temperatures. With this feat, another world record was set.

And now? Cheshire is training to summit both Mount Everest and Mount Lhotse, the highest and fourth-highest mountains in the world. If she completes the back-to-back expeditions this spring, she would be the first blind woman in history to summit Everest and one of the first blind people to attempt this double summit.

But this time, Crandall won’t be joining her in the Himalayas.

He’ll be at GRCC, guiding his students as they navigate the often-overwhelming world of chemistry.

At least for now.

“I don’t know what our next adventure will be,” Crandall said. “We’ve talked about skiing across Antarctica … I do know that with Shawn, there are no limits.”

This story was reported by Beth McKenna.

Spotlight on Professor Keith St. Clair

Professor of Political Science, Keith St. Clair, smiling.

Professor of Political Science, Keith St. Clair, will be a guest lecturer at Calvin Academy for Lifelong Learning over the next three Thursdays: Feb 2cd, 9th and 16th.

His topic is the history and politics of Turkey. Congratulations Keith on sharing your knowledge and experience with others! 

St. Clair has also been featured in GRCC’s Learn from the Best: Learn from the Best: Keith St. Clair’s travels to the Middle East enrich his GRCC political science classes

For more information about the lectures, contact Stacy Herrick at 

Mental Health First Aid is back

Head with a heart bubble that has a yellow plus sign in it.

Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour course (divided up over two days) that teaches you how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders in adults (ages 18 and older). The training gives you the skills you need to reach out and provide initial help and support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem or is experiencing a crisis.

The next chance to participate in this learning experience is March 21 & 22.

Participants in past MHFA trainings had this to say about their experience:

“This training required the participants to step out of their comfort zone and have somewhat uncomfortable but necessary conversations regarding mental health. Conversation and sharing helped me realize that my own experiences were not that different than those of others in the group.” 

“I took this workshop to be sure I was using the correct verbage and steps necessary to assist a student appropriately in a crisis situation.  I had always wondered if I was saying the right things to them and was I taking the right steps to assist a student in a crisis. I was glad to find out that I was saying the right things and taking correct actions and I was also able to practice a discussion with a pretend student in a suicide crisis. Which I found it was not easy for me, but now I know what I must say and take action.”

“The Mental Health First Aid training is a valuable opportunity for all employees at GRCC. The training is beneficial for the work we do at the College as well as within our personal lives.”

“I’m glad to see training provided on another facet of first aid. If training exists for first responders to physical crisis, it makes sense that we are trained for those in mental/psychological crisis.”

Lunch will be served on both days.

Register for this opportunity via your Online Center account.

Employee Wellness Tip: Sitting is the new smoking

Blurry picture of 13 people walking.

Check out this article about sitting at work and try to incorporate the practice of frequent “move” breaks.

Even small amounts of activity can make a big difference. According to the Columbia University Medical Center study, a five minute walk every half hour is able to offset many of the harms of sitting. 

Aside from the physical  benefits to people, short breaks can help uplift one’s mood and help you feel less fatigued. “The human body was not designed to sit for eight hours at a time.”

Upcoming Professional Development opportunity: Technology

IT and Human Resources are offering a new course this academic year as part of Professional Development. This training is designed for supervisors and leaders of the college to learn more about the technology and tools offered by IT to help make your job easier. The course will cover: 

  • IT Service Portal
  • Network Account Provisioning forms
  • Equipment procurement and replacement processes.
  • Approving/denying timesheets and delegating access 
  • Overview of performance reviews
  • How to handle when an employee leaves or transfers
  • Google Resources
  • And more

The next session is Thursday, February 2. To sign up, please register via the Online Center.

HR is conducting a poll for interest in Weight Watchers at GRCC

HR is exploring the possibility of GRCC being a community WW site — providing space for a weigh in location and in person WW staff led workshops.

We’re curious how many GRCC employees would take advantage of this. This would be somewhat different than WW at work has been in the past. 

Please respond to this short poll to indicate your interest.

Thank you! We’ll keep you posted.

Virtual Police Academy information meetings

Criminal Justice Department will be offering Police Academy virtual information sessions in February for those who are interested in learning more about GRCC’s Police Academy. 

Informational Meeting Dates and Times (meetings last one hour):

  • Wednesday, February 1 at 2 p.m.
  • Thursday, February 2 at 10 a.m.

If you are interested in attending, click on the link below and fill out the form. We will then send you a Zoom link..

GRCC Police Academy Information Session – February 2023 

The link is also available on the GRCC Police Academy website on the Application and Boot Camp Information webpage

If you have any questions, please contact the Criminal Justice Department at