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A Sporting Vision: Camp Abilities

  • Spreading Love and Forgiveness through Sport Fetzer advisor Marla Runyan calls Camp Abilities "an amazing example of love and forgiveness" for visually impaired kids and their families. Image Credit: Camp Abilities

  • Playing ball Camp Abilities style Beep baseball uses technology, compassion, and a supportive environment to teach Camp Abilities participants how to run, throw, and hit despite visual impairments. Image Credit: Camp Abilities

  • Young archers take aim Archery and other classic camp activities are part of the offerings for visually impaired children at Camp Abilities Brockport. Kids there receive a unique education in many activities they might otherwise not learn how to enjoy. Image Credit: Camp Abilities

  • Building confidence in the pool Swimming is a key to any summer camper's experience, and Camp Abilities is no exception. Image Credit: Camp Abilities

  • Winning from the inside out Track events are among the many sports used to build confidence and improve fitness at Camp Abilities. Image Credit: Camp Abilities

A Sporting Vision: Camp Abilities

Whether it’s horseback riding, bocce ball, or biking, taking part in sports can carry a certain level of anxiety for kids. It’s even more trying for children with visual impairments (VI), often leaving them sitting on the sidelines when it’s time for active play.

Children with visual impairments often experience delayed development of motor skills and low levels of overall fitness. This can create a cycle of inactivity, inability, and low self-esteem.

To break this cycle, State University of New York College at Brockport kinesiology professor Lauren Lieberman created Camp Abilities in 1998. The camp provides supportive and highly trained staff at a 1:1 ratio to VI students to help them participate in a range of sports. Love, kindness, and forgiveness are all key components in helping kids to rebuild their ideas about fitting in and active play.

Fetzer advisor Marla Runyan understands the issue well, as she developed Stargardt’s Disease, a form of macular degeneration that left her legally blind, at age 9. Nonetheless, she competed in numerous sports, earning spots on two U.S. Olympic teams in the 1,500 and 5,000-meter runs.

"There is a gift, a technique, to teaching a child who can’t see how to run, or how to kick a ball, or how to swim," Runyan said. "They can’t imitate what they’re not seeing, so they have to be taught in other ways.

"Camp Abilities creates that social connection, it creates that opportunity and that empowerment for kids. With that comes a lot of forgiveness,  kids can forgive themselves for being blind and parents can forgive circumstances that were out of their control."

A partnership between the camp and the Fetzer Institute will add to the research about how VI children develop motor skills and result in a curriculum that parents and teachers can use at home and in the classroom. Forgiveness is an important aspect of this work. Through interviews, students and parents will explore forgiveness--of others and of themselves--as a way to address preconceived ideas about disability and break down stereotypes. 

This is a project of the Fetzer Advisory Council on Sport and Embodied Spiritual Practice.

 

Camp Abilities Brockport is a one-week developmental sports camp for children and teens who are blind, visually impaired, and deaf. The camp is set up to provide a one-on-one instructional situation for each person, which is more staff-intensive than the