Posts tagged ‘recreational opportunities for people with disabilities’

An Active Life with Limited Vision

Francis, who is severely visually impaired enough to be considered legally blind, was skilled enough that he was able to attend a mainstream kindergarten.  He needed some modifications, including large print materials.  He adjusted well to the class, but one week came home and told me that they had a guest speaker come to their classroom.  An exterminator came to the classroom to tell them about termites and such.  He was clearly shaken by the presentation, and for the next several nights he had nightmares, couldn’t sleep, and kept the light on in his room.

He was petrified of termites!  Trying to calm him down, I said “Why are you afraid of teeny tiny termites?”  “TINY???” he cried, ‘They’re HUGE!”  Only people who have driven through Providence, Rhode Island and have seen the 30 foot long, 10 foot tall “Big Blue Bug” as an advertisement for an exterminator which sits proudly right next to Route 95 would understand why he thought termites were huge.  After all, he was too visually impaired to see a real termite, and thought that all termites were that big! No wonder he was so frightened!  We’ve had a good laugh over that story for years!

Another interesting story was how he chose his friends.  With limited vision, he could only make out vague details of the other children.   Yet, he had one good friend named Eddie.  He and Eddie always hung out together.  One day I brought him to school late, and as I looked over the sea of Caucasian, blonde haired little five year olds, I heard Francis say “There’s Eddie” as he happily jumped through the crowd to sit next to the only African American boy in the class.  Real easy to spot!

As Francis got older, he wanted to participate in sports.  He took up wrestling through the Police Athletic League where his vision would not impair his performance.  I, however, had never been to a wrestling match before.  At his first match, he was wrestling with another boy his size and he reached over while the other boy supposedly made an “illegal move”.  Francis’ arm cracked the boy in the nose, and soon there was blood everywhere.  I’m screaming.  The kid with an obviously broken nose is screaming.  And Francis was screaming because he had won the match!  That was his one and only wrestling match. Okay, so blame me for being an overprotective mom, but the sight of blood tends to sour me on a sport.

After that, Francis took up swimming, a sport he excelled at, and one in which he could not get hurt or hurt anyone else.  He remained in this sport for many years, and won several honors for his fast swimming.  It gave him a chance to be a member of team and compete with other people where vision was not an issue.

Francis also became an excellent skier, skiing by following closely in the tracks of a lead skier. He went to winter camps in Colorado run by the Christian Braille Foundation from the age of 14 years old, flying alone across the country to join other skiers with vision impairments.  By the time he was a young adult, he was easily skiing black diamond slopes in Maine and New Hampshire. much to my chagrin.  I was petrified he was going to ski into a tree!  (This was around the time one of the Kennedy’s died by running into a tree.) In his early twenties, while Francis was attending college in Cambridge, England, he made several forays skiing in the Alps.  He sent me a gorgeous picture of him at the top of the mountain, the sunshine on his back, his dark glasses gleaming in the sun with a big smile on his face.  He signed the picture “Look, Ma!  No trees!”  because skiing in the Alps is done above the tree line.  I felt much relieved.  What a great place to ski!  Until I learned from someone that there are not TREES on the Alps, but there are plenty of AVALANCHES!

While in Cambridge, Francis joined a punting team. His team was very successful because he was the lead “punter”.  (I don’t know what it is called…) He would stand at the front of the long, flat boat with a long pole.  Because of the fact he was 6 foot 4 inches, his pole would go deeply into the water and propel the boat forward.  He was also very agile and could do this very fast. His team members would direct him on which way to steer, and they became a champion team!

Despite all of my fears and worries as a parent, Francis has successfully made it to adulthood and continues to try new sports, surfing in Hawaii, wind surfing in California,  and, , jogging in marathons.  He even obtained a license to captain his own sailboat crew.  It just demonstrates that being legally blind does not have to hamper your activities, they just are done in different ways!


Global Warming?

I completely understand why older people move to southern states when they retire. Winters are COLD!  My fingers get chilled just thinking about it.

I do not enjoy the winters as I used to.  I remember pre-children when my husband and I would go skiing.  One day it was 10 degrees below zero. We were all excited it was so cold because that meant that the ski slopes would not be as crowded and we would not have to wait in line for the chairlift.  We bundled up with layer upon layer of warm clothing and we skied all day.  At one point, we stopped at the top of the mountain and we could see all around the surrounding area.  With the sun blazing down on the shiny snow, we saw snowcapped mountains in the distance, little villages, frozen lakes and the ant specks that were cars, and I was overcome with awe for God and nature.  It’s a good thing this memory is still crisp in my mind because these days, you’d never get me on top of a cold, frigid mountain again!

The children, of course, have always loved winter.  My oldest son, Francis, still skies with his father from time to time, plus he skies with friends in the mountains of California.  Although he is legally blind, he is a ” black diamond slope” skier.  The only problem with that is he needs a “black diamond slope” guide!  My heart was always in my throat when he skied because I was petrified he’d hit a tree.  (This was during the time when Sonny Bono and one the Kennedy boys died after hitting a tree when skiing.)  While away at college in England, he regularly skied in the French Alps.  Knowing how frightened I am, he sent a picture of him at the top of the mountain.  “You’d love this, mom” he wrote, “No trees.”  I pictured him happily skiing down the bare mountain not a tree in sight to run into.  It wasn’t until much later that someone broke my happy bubble by informing me that he could be buried by an AVALANCHE!  Boy, this being a mom is tough!

My husband received an old snowmobile as a “gift” from a friend.  One day, he was riding it in our large backyard with my son Steven sitting in the front of him and he decided to let him drive.  Excitedly, Steven turned the handlebars to give it gas.  The snowmobile took off in a lurch and my husband was thrown from the back of it in an amazing double somersault.  Steven and the snowmobile were headed right for the shed.  His life flashed before my eyes and I thought “This is what it feels like to see your child die.”   Fortunately, unbeknownst to me, if you let up on the handlebars, the machine stops, and this is exactly what Steven did.  He turned around and noticed his father was missing and he let go of the handlebars.  He stopped within a foot of the shed. It took a while for my heart to start beating again. My husband did the only smart thing a father could do…he sold that snowmobile and he bought 2 news ones so we could go snowmobiling as a family!  I had to go along as a driver in order for the whole family to participate. If you have not ridden a snowmobile, I can only describe it as riding a motorcycle on skis.  I had never ridden a motorcycle and I was very nervous. I would creep along at 5-10 miles per hour, much to my husband’s dismay.  To make matters worse, my husband did not choose the nice, empty, safe fields to ride in.  NOOOOOO!  He chose the skinny, trees whipping by your head, narrow snowmobile paths with TRAFFIC COMING IN THE OTHER DIRECTION!  That one day of snowmobiling was the scariest in my life.  There was no turning back and I had to drive.  My hands were shaking, my body was sweating even though it was freezing out, and my imagination had my head being whipped off by a tree branch.  That was the first and last time for me!  My son Angel was riding with me, and he and I decided we liked to go shopping much more than snowmobiling and everyone was happier with this decision.

About 16 years ago, when it became obvious that Steven had some type of Autism and could not tolerate vacations in hotels, we bought a little house in New Hampshire for vacations.  The children always loved playing outside in the snow.  At the end of our driveway was an 8 foot tall pile of snow made by the snowplow which the kids had fun sliding down.  At one point, Steven climbed to the top of the pile and all of a sudden he disappeared!  He had fallen deep into the snow pile! Another heart stopping moment for me.  Fortunately, we managed to pull the snow from around the top of the pile until he could climb out.  He was laughing because it was so much fun and he wanted to do it again.

At home, we live on a lake.  My 13 year old daughter who is deaf loves playing outside in the cold.  She loves to go ice fishing, building snowmen, and, most of all, playing hockey.  She dresses warmly from head to toe…black snow pants, black jacket, a hat which covers most of her face, several pairs of gloves topped with hockey gloves, and boys hockey skates.  She takes her hockey stick and skates around the lake to the various hockey games trying to get an invitation to play.  From looking at her all bundled up, you cannot tell if she is a girl or a boy.  She is not verbal, so they cannot tell from her voice.  (She points to her ears for them to know she is deaf.)  She would normally use sign language but with hockey gloves this is next to impossible.  She is a good player and that is all that matters, and she invariably plays for hours. If one group stops playing, she will skate around and find another group.  She reminds me of a female Batman for hockey…slinking into games, her identity unknown…showing up out of the blue when a team needs a player!

Winter is alive and well with my kiddos, who enjoy it as I did when I was a child, but now I am old and get chilled easily..  If they want me, I’ll be sitting by the fireplace drinking hot chocolate and watching tv, often a show with a discussion about global warming.

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