Editor’s note: This post has been updated and is
I have shared a lot about losing my vision over in the past, and I think a lot of things contributed to my positive attitude and success. In my heart, I know that mentors, blindness skills, support, counseling and sports changed my life. I can tell you that sports introduced me to mentors who are blind or low vision, and provided me with a community. I didn’t grow up in the community, and I really slipped through the cracks. I grew up playing sports, and made a lot of lifetime friends and mentors through it before my vision loss. I valued sports, and how it made me feel about myself.
I lost most of my vision during the first semester of college. Sports became difficult, and I didn’t know how I would participate anymore. I continued on through university and graduated. Later on, I ended up taking a job as a teacher’s assistant in a physical education program, where I assisted in teaching and coaching sports. I loved it, and I was still losing the little vision that I had. I was getting training in orientation and mobility, Braille, organization, and compensatory skills when available in evenings and weekends.
After some time, I decided to go back to school to get a degree around education, and possibly help fill the gaps in my own schooling. During my first semester at Florida State University, Mickey Dameilo, a classmate, had been telling me about this Paralympic sport called Goalball. He brought me to a practice, and that moment changed my life. I started practicing with the team, and I began working out with them. I found a community and mentors who were blind or low vision. Michael, Bobby, Norris, and Donte became great friends and mentors. This was exactly what I needed: finding people who are blind and love athletics. This filled the last piece of me. Tuttle and Tuttle said, “giving back something that a person values aides in the adjustment process.”
I am not the only person who feels this way, I reached out to my friend, Erik Weihenmayer, to get his thoughts. He shared,
Going blind as a teenager, it was easy to feel isolated and become self-absorbed by my loss. Joining the wrestling team was the best thing I could have done. It was my way out – my pathway forward. It pulled me out of myself, gave me a physical goal, helped me make friends, begin competing on an even playing field, and most importantly – enabled me to be part of a team – something bigger and more purposeful than my blindness. It was a door opener and a precedence I’ve repeated many times since, as I’ve built amazing teams to climb peaks and kayak rivers all around the world.
Erik has summitted the highest peak on each continent, and continues to push his limits. I’ve been following the Paralympic Games ever since I was introduced to them.
I wish the documentary Rising Phoenix had been available earlier in my life, as this shares a piece of what the athletes are like and what the games mean to the world. The Paralympic Games are about humanity, not specific to disability, and the games feature some of the best athletes in the world, not just among athletes with disabilities. If you haven’t watched the Paralympic Games, then you are missing out. I think you will understand, if you watch Rising Phoenix on Netflix, which launched back in August. You will hear the stories of just a few athletes, and this is just the tip of the excitement of these sports.
For all of those parents and families out there, get your children who are blind involved in sports and recreation, as it changes lives. We won’t all be competing internationally, but it is important to have role models and mentors who inspire us to push for more. Please take the time to watch the documentary, and let me know your thoughts.
On Thursday, December 3rd Netflix recognized the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (#IDPD2020) by releasing a guide to accompany the film. The downloadable guide is available in five languages and was developed to help teachers learn more about the Paralympic movement. The free educational guide also explores perceptions of disability and how these perceptions have changed over time.
If you want to learn more about sports and recreation activities for children and youth with visual impairments, you can also check out the upcoming APH ConnectCenter webinar: Blind Kids Just Want to Have Fun.