Windows on Woodland – Blind Athletes Enjoy Park

By Pat Nelson

Valley Bugler Columnist

The sign on the trailer parked at Woodland’s Horseshoe Lake Park read “Northwest Association for Blind Athletes.” Curious, I looked beyond to the asphalt walkway that circles the park. Several tandem bikes, each with two riders, moved smoothly along the path. The children on the bikes laughed and squealed.

I wanted to know more, so I talked with Stacey Gibbins, NWABA’s director of programs. She explained that the dozen children riding bikes at Horseshoe Lake Park were either blind or sight-impaired. They had come to the park to ride bikes and play baseball. Stacey explained that just before I arrived, the children had finished a game of beep baseball. I watched as helpers carried equipment to the trailer. Stacey showed me special bases equipped with sirens, and she demonstrated a baseball that beeps when a pin is pulled. In a beep-baseball game, she explained, players use hearing rather than sight, and the athlete attempts to get to the base before the person in the field gets to the ball.

I learned that there are more than 1000 members in NWABA ‘s four-state group including Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. The home office is in Vancouver, and Stacey said this group chose to ride bikes in Woodland because of the nice park with its flat, asphalt trail and a grassy area for baseball.

The group’s mission statement is to provide life-changing opportunities through sports and physical activity to individuals who are blind or visually impaired. The organization strives to improve the quality of life for visually impaired children, youth and adults. Benefits to participants include long-lasting friendships, improved health, improved skills and confidence to help them succeed in all areas of life.

According to the group’s website, nwaba.org, seventy percent of blind or visually impaired school-aged children have never participated in physical activity. This organization hopes to reduce that percentage. Participants experience track and field, tandem cycling, judo, goalball, showdown (adaptive ping pong), beep baseball, beep kickball, hiking and swimming. Students learn the rules of various sports, and they compete to showcase their abilities.

Carrie Scott, program and volunteer specialist, reported that when she took one person riding, he yelled the entire time in a surprised voice, “I’m doing it, I’m doing it.” He had probably never dreamed of riding a bike. Another, who didn’t need to be convinced to ride, said, “I think I’ve caught the bug. I’m going to need to do this more.”

Carrie often hears shouts of, “Go faster! Go faster!” Participants report that they love the way the wind feels on their faces, and some ask to have their picture taken. Others want to know when they ride by their parents so they can wave.

NWABA makes the lifelong benefits of sports available, regardless of visual impairment, by creative adaptations that allow all to participate.

I enjoyed watching this group of fun-loving young athletes. Their laughter and enthusiasm filled the park, and I thought to myself, that’s what parks are for.

Pat Nelson, is co-creator of three humorous and sometimes edgy anthologies: ‘Not Your Mother’s Book: On Being a Parent’ (Amazon.com & retailers); On Being a Grandparent; and On Working for a Living.

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