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for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Sports Forum: Readers' Tips

People who really love sports are going to figure out how to continue playing even after the onset of vision loss. This page is devoted to personal tips and strategies from sports enthusiasts from all over—we hope they inspire to you to stay in game! Check back often as we add new tips to this page, and please send us your own stories at seniorsite@afb.net.


Skydiving

"I wanted to surprise my children at Christmas. In October 2006, I went skydiving. I had a film of myself skydiving and at Christmas put the film on to show them. I had seen it done on television and it looked fun. I figured I could do that with somebody who could see. So, I went skydiving with a partner.

"My nephew drove me to an airfield in Memphis run by a skydiving company. Before the skydiving company takes you up in the plane, they have a plane on the ground. There, you go through the motions of sitting in a certain place on the plane and going out the door. They train you a bit before you skydive. Then they fastened me up to my partner. We got up to 14,500 feet. I put on a jumper outfit. My partner hooked equipment on to me and he wore a parachute. We did a free fall for 60 seconds. For a minute, we were just stepping out of the plane and falling. Then my partner pulled the cord, the parachute opened up, and we floated gracefully to the ground. I didn't have to have real good eye sight, because my partner was doing all the work.

"I wanted my children to see how young I still was! I felt like I was flying! My children were really surprised! They didn't believe it!" –Joseta Barker

Dancing

"I've been legally blind since 1966. My husband (who is fully sighted) and I are members of the Center for Active Generations. It's like a senior center, but anyone who's 18 years or older can belong. Before I had total knee replacement, we participated in the Center's weekly dances and we'll go back to it once I've recovered. We like the old time waltzes and polkas.

"In learning how to dance, a fully sighted person would be able to observe the instructor. A visually impaired person can follow the lead of someone who is sighted, or even someone who isn't. If you were into dancing prior to becoming blind or visually impaired, or even if you learned it after you lost your vision, it's not difficult. You'd probably have to have a teacher call out how to step right or how to step left. The instructor would then have to stand beside you to give you that instruction, so you would be able to see more, hear better, and feel the motion of instructor. If you're visually impaired, tell your dance teacher about your limitations, so that he or she knows how much guidance to give you." –Helen Hartmann

Cross-Country Skiing

"I first became involved with Ski for Light, Inc. (SFL) in 1982. The mission of the organization is to teach blind, visually and mobility-impaired adults how to cross-country ski, in an atmosphere that encourages participants to realize that the only true limitations that they face because of their disability are the limitations that they place on themselves. Each year SFL conducts a weeklong event where blind and mobility-impaired adults are taught the basics of cross-country skiing. The event attracts upwards of 300 participants and guides. The location of the event changes from year to year in an effort to spread the Ski for Light philosophy and idea to as many parts of the country as possible.

Since my initial involvement, I have attended 22 annual events. The prevailing attitude at the Ski for Light event is that this is an experience where blind and sighted adults are equal partners in an exhilarating and rewarding activity." –Scott McCall

Tips on Cross-Country Skiing With Vision Loss

Cross-country skiing is a very tactile sport. This makes it a great sport for people with vision loss and for people of all ages, including seniors. I like it because the trails offer different terrains and more variety than downhill skiing. The sport also allows skiers to choose flat trail sking or hillier terrain, making it possible for people with different fitness levels and degrees of expertise to participate.

Skiiers should wear goggles or sunglasses and a hat to block the glare. The glare comes both from above and below the skier.

Having a good guide is critical. Since time is short, guides should offer descriptive but very pointed information. For example: "sharp turn ahead to right" or "steep hill" or "large object directly ahead." Guides also need to wear brightly colored clothing to stand out against the snow and use an MP3 player or wear a bell so that they can be heard and followed.

I am going to try a talking GPS to map the trail. They can be programmed to give specific directions such as "sharp turn."

Many local ski slopes offer guide service now and some agencies for the blind are also offering ski outings. So check ahead. There are also national organizations that offer guides and opportunities to ski. I have participated personally in the Ski for Light program. The United States Association of Blind Athletes is another good organization.–Tara Annis

Tai Chi

"A longtime practitioner of tai chi, I am also a teacher of empty-handed tai chi and tai chi double-edged sword—and a person with low vision. Tai chi can be very helpful in adapting to vision loss. The benefits of relaxation and improvement of balance, breathing, and ease of movement are valuable for people who can see well and for people who don't. However, for people who are blind or visually impaired, the benefits are particularly valuable for learning to navigate in new circumstances or in places that have become difficult to navigate due to vision loss. For more information about tai chi and how the study of tai chi helped me and can help other people with vision loss, see my article "Tai Chi for People with Low Vision," in "Vision Access," a publication of Council of Citizens with Low Vision, an Affiliate of American Council of the Blind." –Barbara Friedman

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