Atascadero man a lesson in joy, resilience - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Atascadero man a lesson in joy, resilience

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Travis Sitler walks the aisles of the Atascadero Home Dept. (KSBY photo) Travis Sitler walks the aisles of the Atascadero Home Dept. (KSBY photo)

There are lots of remarkable people on the Central Coast. But once in a while, you run across a story you have to see to believe.

This is such a story about a man whose determination to overcome his circumstances and the joy he brings to that effort is so infectious, he's truly inspiring everyone around him. 

He works at Home Depot in Atascadero. 

Like the company's other locations, this retail warehouse is jammed with row after row of multi-story aisles, filled with thousands and thousands of different products.

As with other employees, Travis had to learn the store's layout and the locations of its contents.  Only he can't open his eyes to see if he got it right.  

He's blind.

"My name is Travis Sitler" he tells a customer as he smiles, "..and I'm one of the Home Depot appliance associates."

But he's confident in his abilities.  

"Where are the toilet seats located?" I ask.
"Toilet seats are in aisle 14," he responds immediately.
"How about heat registers?"
"Heat registers are in aisle 15 with the water heaters."
"What about 50-pound bags of concrete?" I ask.
"Those will be in aisle 25," responds Travis.

"He would pinpoint to where a product was to the exact space on the shelf," explains Jessa Imlay, one of the store supervisors, "... which is more than any associate I've ever seen here at the store accomplished."

I wanted to see if the stories were true. So, I asked Travis to show me around.

He motioned for me to follow him down the aisle, white cane sweeping the floor in front of him as he moved.  

"Then we'll turn here and we should have some sinks right up here."

There were the sinks, just as he promised.  "You are absolutely right," I said, "Stainless steel sinks are all around us.  Let's go look for light bulbs," I suggest. 

"Light bulbs?" He smiles.  "I know a good way we can get there."

Travis's mother says he's always been fascinated by home improvement shows.

"You roll your eyes," I pointed out to her.  

"Oh yeah.  I mean, sometimes I say,... you know... can we change the channel?" She laughs. "...and then he studies a lot on his computer, researching like,... grout or tiles.  I mean, you name it."

His co-workers will tell you, his memory is amazing.

"Several years from now," Travis says, "...I'll remember this day when I was interviewed,... what day it happened,... what the weather was like."

People around Travis nod. And he can look forward, too.

"...and I can even tell you like when your birthday is, for example--what day your birthday will be on."

I wonder if he's kidding.  "Really?" I ask. "Okay, my birthday is October 7th."

"October 7th! Well, I'll tell you,... you are lucky this year! You have a Saturday birthday this year!"  

"I do?" I asked, astonished. I looked it up and he was right.  I asked him if he can look farther into the future.  For instance, name the day of the week Christmas will fall in five years.

"2022, it looks like we'll be having a Sunday Christmas day in 2022," he says with a smile.
"How do you know that?!" I ask.
"Well, usually, I think like when we had our last leap year, for example, and we'll have another one and think about when the next couple of Christmas holidays are coming up... the whole 9 yards."

I could go on and on about how Travis helps customers with online orders using a special computer, or how he's able to identify a specific model appliance by the feel of the shape of its handle. He's remarkable in so many ways, it's easy to overlook perhaps his biggest gifts. 

"You think this requires courage? What he's doing?" I ask Marilyn Hoerl, one of the customer service specialists. 

"Of course!" she says. "Can you imagine it yourself? 

The store manager, Stacie Tivnen adds, "I think he's braver than all of us. Every day he gets up with the most positive outlook of anyone I've ever met."

"You're tearing up," I note.

"I know," she says. "I can't help it. I'm a sap. I can't help it."

His family, friends, and co-workers say Travis is a constant reminder to listen... and be present.

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