Workout Group Gives Colorblind Member the Gift of a Lifetime - NBC Chicago

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Workout Group Gives Colorblind Member the Gift of a Lifetime

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    Workout Group Gives Colorblind Member the Gift of a Lifetime

    A workout group in the western suburbs changed the way one of its members sees the world - in more ways than one. Alex Maragos has the story. 

    (Published Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019)

    Workout groups can promise to get you in shape. They can promise to teach you discipline. But one workout group in the western suburbs has done much more than that.

    Late last month, F-3 Naperville changed Bob Happ’s life. It took several secret months in the making and dedication from family and friends. In the end, they changed the way Happ sees the world, literally and figuratively.

    Happ lives in Aurora with his wife of 44 years, Marissa. He’s a dairy salesman by day and a gifted artist on the side. He paints and sketches beautiful works. It’s been a passion since he was young. But a project early in school showed a deficiency.

    “Little Bobby couldn’t see color,” Happ said of his younger self. The assignment that day was to fill in correct colors for a clown’s balloons. Happ incorrectly colored balloons that were supposed to be filled in red and green.

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    Happ was color blind. He couldn’t distinguish between red and green.

    “I saw dark colors, I saw a lot of browns,” Happ said. “I saw some mud, I saw some gray. In terms of greens, I saw some light colors. I saw some beige. I just never saw what green looks like.”

    According to the National Institutes of Health, about one in 12 men are born with some kind of color blindness. For Happ, it didn’t deter his interest in art, nor alter his day to day life. He modified how he saw things like stop lights. His wife helped with art that needed red or green.

    “I kind of serve as his color consultant,” she said. “I’ll sit next to him and select the chromatic pencils most appropriate for what he is doing.”

    Aside from art, one of Happ's other passions is F-3. F-3 is a fitness movement that puts on free workouts, all over the country, every week. It was started in North Carolina as a way to invigorate male leadership and has since exploded nationwide. F-3 doesn’t care if participants are in top shape or 100 pounds overweight. The workouts challenge everyone to work as a team and build each other up. Happ was invited by his pastor and rarely misses a session. At 66 years old, he’s the beloved elder of the group.

    “We’ve often has to use him as a positive role model for even just encouraging guys to be part of the group,” said Ed Perry, another regular F-3 participant.

    Perry learned about Happ’s colorblindness after a workout. Earlier this year, he and another F-3 participant, Dr. Michael Menconi, an optometrist hatched a grand plan. They worked with Marissa to get a special pair of EnChroma glasses for Happ that would allow him to see a full range of colors for the first time. Happ had known for about three years that special color-correcting glasses existed, but always thought he would get them “at the right time.”

    “We’ve raised money for various things that I thought this would be a perfect moment for us to band together and decide on something to help one of our very own,” said Perry. The F-3 group raised the $750 for the glasses in an hour and a half. Marissa helped the pair tailor Happ's glasses to meet exact specifications.

    After the F-3 Naperville workout on Oct. 26, a large crowd surprised Happ. He had just finished leading the group, and was greeted by his wife, four of his five children and dozens of friends and supporters.

    “[I] had no idea [from] Boston, my son would show,” Happ said. “[I] had no idea [from] LA, my daughter would show. I had no idea that all my kids would come down from Geneva. It was an extraordinary moment.”

    Happ was presented with a small box containing the glasses and tried them on.

    “At that very moment when I sensed that these glasses were going to do something extraordinary, I just had to turn around, I had to look back behind me,” said Happ. “I put those glasses on, I looked up I saw trees. I looked back to my right, everybody was wearing red, and some of the guys were wearing green and it was just a sea of red and green like I’ve never seen in my life.”

    It was a special moment for many others there as well.

    “It’s definitely something none of us will ever forget,” Perry said. “It’s brought a lot of us closer together, saying if anybody comes through…we’re a bunch of guys who build on this idea of fellowship and this other component of faith and all three came together that day.”

    Happ said he’s ready to see life, and his art, in a whole new way.

    “I am really excited about my art!” said Happ. “I am so pumped to start doing things in color. I have two or three or four colors. I’m ready to open this up and break it wide open.”

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