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!