Mara: What I Learned in a Gymnasium with a Group of Blind Boys

I am not a native to gymnasiums. Gyms give me flashbacks of Junior High; sitting on benches, feeling left out and disinterested. In general, I have not in all my years, appreciated physical sports. However, when you give birth to a son who runs fast and plays hard, you resign yourself to at least making a sporty effort.

But, when that same son suffers from a genetic disability that slowly robs him of sight, the opportunities for sharing sporting moments starts to disappear just like his vision. His sporting drive is still there, but the opportunities are not. And that’s when the first annual National Blind Sports Day comes in. On this day I am about to not only witness, but participate in a sport called Goal Ball that is designed for people with vision loss. So, I take my non-athletic, 46-year old mom self slowly on to a gym floor. My team consists of 2 other teenage boys who have also never played this game. Our opponents are 3 more teenage boys, 2 who have played Goal Ball in the past. My son is among those opponents. I take the time to remind him that the last time there was a ball launched between us that I ended up with a broken and crooked finger. He smiles; I don’t.

I’m given my blindfold, told to put it on and stand at the end of the goal line and block the big, hard ball being hurled my way. My stomach does a somersault as I reach to pull my blindfold down. I’m scared. I’m scared to attempt a sport as a non-sighted person. I can’t do this. I’m thinking of stepping off the gym floor. Then I think of my teammates. They have no choice to step off the “gym floor”; that is their life. They can be scared and feel they can’t do things, but there’s no removing the blindfold and stepping back into a comfort zone.

I swallow the recently formed lump in my throat, reach up and pull my blindfold down and wait for my son to lob the ball in my direction. It comes fast and hard and surprisingly, my team blocks it. Cheers erupt and I applaud. We volley back and forth and play this game. We all take hits and my body aches from my hips slamming on to the hard gym floor as I attempt to block shot after shot. The team mate on my right is a quick learner and even though I can’t see him, I hear his enthusiasm and excitement. He’s experiencing the thrill of competition and reveling in his unexpected success. Another blind boy joins us on the sidelines and becomes our cheerleader.

We end up losing this game, but we all won. By the end no one is timid or scared, not even me. I lift my blindfold and reach out to the boys around me. My husband takes our picture and by the looks on our faces you would have thought we had won a medal. We won something much better, though. We won comradery, we won confidence, we won self-esteem and we won memories.

But, I won the greatest prize of all. After years of watching others play sports, my son and I participated in a physical activity once again. It was an extremely emotional moment, one I will not forget. While I don’t know when, or if, we will ever play this game again as mother and son, I would jump at the opportunity in a heartbeat if it ever arose. And this time, I would don my blindfold and proudly step into the dark unknown. The possibilities there are endless and blindness will not stop these kids from succeeding.