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Blind golfer's story resonates with many, including Aaron Rodgers

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers didn't understand.

"There's no story, dude," the Green Bay Packers quarterback replied via a text on Wednesday afternoon. "He's an amazing story. I was just golfing with a friend of mine."

The text exchange had been about Jeremy Poincenot, with whom Rodgers had crossed paths while playing Pelican Hill Golf Club in Newport Beach, California, on Sunday. And Rodgers was right about this much: Poincenot is an amazing story.

Poincenot suffers from Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy, an extremely rare genetic disorder that causes sudden loss of central vision and affects roughly 1 in 50,000 -- most frequently young men between the ages of 18 and 25. Diagnosed as a 19-year-old sophomore at San Diego State, Poincenot became legally blind in just two months -- a "traumatic life experience," as he calls it -- and spent the next two years going through the five stages of grief.

It wasn't until he rediscovered his passion for golf -- and quickly became one of the world's best blind golfers, winning four U.S. titles and the 2010 world title -- that he found his purpose. Now, he says, if someone offered him the chance to magically restore his sight, he'd politely decline.

"It's an eye-opener for the sighted community to hear that, but it's true," Poincenot -- well aware of the pun he'd just delivered -- said in a phone interview. "After I was first diagnosed, I lived every single day to one day see again. And now, I honestly don't care. I hope there's a cure and a treatment for those who are diagnosed in the future, but I'm doing OK. Life is pretty awesome."

It certainly was awesome on Sunday morning.

Poincenot was stationed with his father, Lionel, at Pelican Hill's par 5 eighth hole, as attendees of the annual Roth Capital Conference came through during their outing. Each new foursome then heard the Cliffs Notes version of the presentation Poincenot gives in his work as a motivational speaker and a pitch for a charity based in San Diego that helps athletes with physical disabilities.

One member of each foursome would serve as Poincenot's eyes for his tee shot. When Rodgers' group arrived -- Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles was also in the foursome -- Rodgers volunteered to line Poincenot up for his drive.

"I've definitely met a lot of cool people in my time, but you're still always star-struck and giddy and excited to meet someone [like Rodgers]," said Poincenot, a lifelong Chargers fan who'd been tipped off by an earlier foursome that Rodgers was playing in the event. "I've been a fan of his since he played at Cal and when he was the backup to Brett [Favre], so I've definitely followed his career. I definitely knew about him and was excited, and from the outsider's perspective, he always seemed like a really cool guy. But he and Blake Bortles were outstanding. He definitely exceeded expectations."

As Rodgers frequently demonstrated during his ESPN Milwaukee radio show from 2011 through 2014 -- "You mean, the one where he said, ‘R-E-L-A-X?' " Poincenot asked with a laugh -- he's a naturally inquisitive person. So for him, Poincenot's brief re-telling of his life story wasn't enough.

"He asked a lot of questions. If my vision was going to get worse, how the disease would progress, what I can and can't see," Poincenot recounted. "As I explained to Aaron, if I'm looking right at you, I can't see your face. I can see with my peripheral vision, but whatever I look directly at is completely blurred out.

"There are three things I'm no longer able to do: I'm no longer able to read, I'm no longer able to drive, and I'm no longer able to distinguish faces. I said to Aaron, ‘If you walked by me and said hi, I would give you a blank stare and say hi back but I wouldn't know who you are. I can walk around -- my spatial awareness is great -- so I don't bump into things. I don't use a cane, I don't use a [service] dog."

To Rodgers, it was Poincenot's story -- and not the fact that he'd met a two-time NFL MVP -- that needed to be highlighted. "He's such a great kid," Rodgers wrote in a separate message. "My offseason, I've got a lot of stories. (Including attending the Academy Awards, where he photobombed rapper Common).

"This one is cool, but only because Jeremy is such a unique guy. HIS story is what's important."

It was no surprise that Rodgers didn't see his interaction with Poincenot as anything other than meeting an interesting fellow golfer on the course, or that he didn't feel the need to tout it on social media. In fact, had the irreverent Packers fan blog Total Packers not gotten wind of the story, no one outside of Rodgers' foursome and Poincenot's 1,448 Twitter followers might have even known about it.

That's consistent with Rodgers' attitude toward his off-the-field charity work. Although he has talked about how much his partnership with Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer fund means to him and used the website ItsAaron.com to highlight some of the work the MACC Fund and other lesser-known Wisconsin charities do, he's generally taken an under-the-radar approach to such things.

In fact, he's more likely to use his Twitter account to post obscure Jack Handey quotes (without explanation) than tout himself as a do-gooder.

Instead, Rodgers chose to send a more subtle message to Poincenot about the impression he'd left on him. Poincenot had been among Rodgers' confused followers reading his "Deep Thoughts" (he either has Tweets read to him or can read them himself when heavily magnified on his Apple MacBook) when he made a discovery: Rodgers had made Poincenot one of the 180 people he follows on Twitter.

"And that," Poincenot said, "was pretty cool."