ORONO, Maine —- For the 11th year, blind student-athletes from all over New England have gathered for the 2014 New England Blind Athletic Association Summer Sports Education camp.
The camp, which takes place at both the Orono/Old Town YMCA and University of Maine from June 18-21, features sports ranging from track and field events to wrestling, fencing, rock climbing and swimming.
Each of these events is monitored by volunteers from various blind assistance programs to ensure that the athletes, who range in age from 10 to 18, can safely participate in sports they may have not thought possible.
“The whole purpose of the camp is to adapt the sports to low vision. Some of the sports don’t really need to be adapted,” Mark Sinclair, director of the New England Blind Athletic Association, said Thursday. “[For example], to keep [the athletes] from head-butting the wall at the end of the pool, we have a tap stick, so we tap them before they hit the wall.”
The camp allows children to build their confidence and try sports and activities they may not ever try otherwise.
“I like the kids and seeing them learn things. It’s a chance for them to get away from home and try sports so they can go back home and tell gym coaches, ‘I can do [this sport], and this is how I’ll do it,'” Sinclair said.
Sinclair, who is legally blind, began volunteering for the Michigan Blind Athletic Association in 1991. In 2004, he started the New England branch and began hosting Summer Sports Education Camps in Orono. According to Sinclair, the 2014 camp has seen the greatest attendance with 12 athletes from Vermont, three from New Hampshire and 10 from Maine, a total of 25 athletes.
Sudeep Stauble, a 19-year-old high school senior from Harrison, has come to the camp as a blind athlete for nine of the 11 years it has taken place. Stauble said he greatly enjoys the camp and believes that participating is what has allowed him to take part in sports such as track and field and wrestling at his high school.
For blind children who struggle to be active and find an avenue to be themselves, Stauble offered some advice.
“Don’t be afraid to try new things. I know there are people who think they can’t do anything because they’re blind. If you try something new, you might discover something you never thought you could do before and find a new passion [because of it],” he said.
For first-year volunteer David Perry of Waterville, who is blind, the experience has been rewarding.
“I’ve known Mark for years and always wanted to volunteer,” Perry said. “[The experience has been] very positive. As you encourage and coax [the children] along with certain things [and see them try new things], it’s great to watch.”
Perry is a member of the board of directors for the Maine chapter of the American Council of the Blind, one of many local groups that donates the money necessary to keep the camp running. Every year, the council gives $2,000 to Sinclair as a way of helping him attain the $12,000 necessary to hold the event.
“Twelve-thousand dollars doesn’t come easy, especially nowadays when you’ve got so many people competing for the same dollar. Mark’s persistent, he gets things done,” Sinclair said.
The New England Blind Athletic Association also has held a Winter Sports Education Camp since March 2013. It features downhill skiing, cross-country skiing and tubing, among other events. That camp is held at Sunday River.