Students from all over the state gathered at Weber State this past week to participate in Camp Abilities, a five-day athletic skills camp for students with vision impairments. The camp is run by the Utah School for the Blind.
“(Camp Abilities is) part of this whole movement about bringing sports, fitness and recreation to students with vision impairments,” said camp director Robbin Clark. “And it’s a phenomenal program to be a part of.”
About 25 participants in grades 3–12 take part in the camp, which is one of a series of summer programs the school offers, all free of charge to youth with vision impairments in Utah.
At Camp Abilities, participants practiced skills in a variety of sports, including handing off in relays, new swimming strokes and dribbling a soccer ball for five-a-side soccer, a Paralympic sport for people with visual impairments.
In five-a-side soccer, players are blindfolded, and the game is played in silence so players can hear the rattle-like sound the ball makes as it rolls.
“(Camp Abilities has) helped me to want to keep ... pursuing sports even with my visual impairment,” said Casey Reyes, 18, a graduate of Murray High School. “I’m always finding new ways to constantly to adapt as a person with a visual impairment, which is what you have to do.”
Reyes says Camp Abilities has helped him improve in track and five-a-side soccer. He’ll start at Weber State in the fall and says he plans to continue to participate in sports in college.
“They have a track team here. They have wrestling, and all the sports I love to do,” Reyes said.
He also wants to compete in the Paralympics, which includes sports such as track and field, wrestling, goal ball, five-a-side soccer and judo, he said.
“I love how Utah is one of the first states to bring five-a-side soccer to the United States — us and Maryland,” Reyes said.
Nora Barton, 11, and Kelsey Kartchner, 10, became friends first through participating in goalball, a sport for people with vision impairments. The two live about 30 minutes from each other, in Garland and Logan.
“You get to roll a ball while you’re blindfolded,” said Kartchner, describing goalball.
“And it has a bell in it, so people across the court can hear it,” Barton added, “and you have to try to score a goal, but they have to try to block it ...”
“With their body!” Kartchner said. “And it’s not soft ... it’s heavy.”
The two friends have participated in other camps with the Utah School for the Blind, but they said this was their first Camp Abilities.
Barton said she liked track way more than she expected, and she’s planning to try out for her school’s track team.
Kartchner said she loved learning to swim, even though she was worried about the chlorine hurting her eyes when she dunked underwater, since she’s had radiation treatment for eye cancer.
“And then I did it, and I was like ‘Wow, that was easy. Why was I scared?’” Kartchner said.
In addition to the athletic skills they gain, participants in the camp gain friendships — through the camp and through participation in sports in general.
“If you’re blind, you can meet so many others like you,” Kartchner said.
Reyes said one of his friends was the last on the track to finish one of their races. A group ran over to finish her last lap with her, he said.
Ashton Hintze, 16, from Cottonwood Heights, attended Camp Abilities for the third time this year, she said. As a result of past camps, she got into track and goalball.
“Since I was diagnosed late in life (three years ago), I wasn’t open to the blind community,” Hintze said. “It was really hard for me at the beginning ... it was a very new thing for me to know that I was going blind. And I just decided that I didn’t want to live my life kind of hiding from it ... so I tried out one of Robbin’s camps, and I loved it, so I kept coming ... I love the community. I love how kind we are to each other. I love all the things that I learned. And I’ve made so many friends. It’s been amazing.”
This is the fourth year that Camp Abilities has been held in Utah, and all four camps have been held at Weber State. Clark said the camp continues returning to Ogden because the Weber State campus is an ideal venue for the event.
Camp Abilities began in Brockport, New York, serving its first group of campers in 1996. There are now 29 camps in the world, including several international locations.