Riding with Northwest Association for Blind Athletes

IMG_6694Since I was blessed with decent vision, I take a lot of activities for granted. I can run, I can play sports, and despite my gangly legs and propensity for poor decision-making on the field, I can exercise without a second thought. I’m lucky. But until I met Billy Henry with the Northwest Association for Blind Athletes (NWABA), I didn’t realize just how fortunate I really am.

For those who are blind or visually impaired, living an active lifestyle comes with a lot of challenges. People who are visually impaired are often left out of sports with their peers, and lots of ordinary exercises pose obstacles if you can’t see well. That’s why Billy, the Executive Director of NWABA, works with schools, communities, and organizations to adapt a variety of sports to allow visually impaired people to participate. With NWABA, the same competition and exercise of these sports exists, they’re just subtly tweaked to take vision out of the equation. When we heard about NWABA’s mission, we were pretty darn inspired. So I asked Billy if there was a way we could support the cause. Billy’s response; “Have you ever ridden a tandem bicycle?”

IMG_0847Turns out, NWABA has a fleet of tandem bikes that they use to let visually impaired people ride with a volunteer on the front to guide. That way, they get the speed and exercise of a brisk bike ride without the danger. With Billy’s help, I recruited a few PacificSource volunteers to come ride with kids in Corvallis.

Thanks to my job, I get the chance to attend a lot of community events (all over the Northwest), but I can honestly say that this was the most enjoyable volunteering I’ve ever done. Here’s why:

1) The kids. We got to ride with some of the greatest kids I’ve ever met. These guys were upbeat, funny, outgoing, and so welcoming to a bunch of nervous volunteers (nervous, because we had no idea what to expect). Not to mention, they were absolutely fearless! I was so inspired by their willingness to talk about themselves as we pedaled through Corvallis. On all of my rides, I became great pals with my co-pilots.

2) The volunteers. Along with the PacificSource volunteers, there were teachers, family members, and a bunch of other kind-hearted riders on hand. Most of them had a much better understanding of visual impairments than we did, and all of them were willing to take the time to introduce to the kids, prepare us for the ride, and eliminate any fears we had of steering our kids into danger (I’m not going to lie, I was terrified of a crash and burn).

3) It was way, way fun! Plain and simple, we got to spend a couple of hours riding bikes with kids in Corvallis. That’s an awesome way to spend an afternoon.

I got to ride with Zach, Jacob, and Alex, all of whom were machines on the back of my bike! We raced other pairs, screamed under a covered bridge, and had an absolute blast. I’m sure the kids had fun, but I can almost guarantee I had a better time than anyone.

To Billy and everyone else at NWABA, thank you. I can’t tell you how much we enjoyed the experience. We learned a ton about these kids, and they’re some of the bravest people I’ve ever met. Considering NWABA provides sports for people throughout the Northwest, these bike rides are only a drop in bucket. These programs are phenomenal, and I can’t wait to support their organization again. To learn more about NWABA, or to support their cause, check out their website: http://nwaba.org/

Here are some snapshots from our day in Corvallis:

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Related Post: Cycling for Oregon Supported Living Program

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