Tom is an adventurous guy. He prefers to be on the go and moving all the time. He loves physical activity and meeting new people. A couple years ago we got involved with VIP Sports, an organization at Slippery Rock University, which is about an hour north of Pittsburgh. Tom has gone to many day clinics and events with VIP sports, but last year I took Tom up to try a full day of the VIP Sports camp. I dropped him off at 8:30 in the morning and didn’t pick him up until 9:30 at night! I expected him to be exhausted, but instead he was energized and still full of excitement.
After this day-long trial we knew it was an experience he loved, but we were unsure if he could handle a whole week away from home. In late spring we went to a VIP sports event at Kayak Pittsburgh. Tom was very excited to kayak because he loves anything that gets him in water. We had been walking around a Dick’s Sporting Goods store that winter and he came across all the kayaks and paddles. He touched every boat and paddle he could get his hands on that day as I told him what they were and how they are used. He was very interested in the idea of being in a boat so we knew he’d love the chance to kayak.
While we were waiting for the event to start we met a mother who had helped out at past camps and she said they’d worked with kids who weren’t fully independent in dressing yet. That was one of our biggest fears! I worried about Tommy showing up in his pjs and never brushing his teeth all week! She assured me that they provide assistance where it’s needed. We signed him right up after hearing that!
We were all excited until it came time to drop him off on a Sunday afternoon. Then mom and dad became less excited and more apprehensive. It was so weird to hand over his eye drops to the staff, collect his VIP t-shirts and name tag, and then move him into a dorm room! It was not easy to walk away but I knew I had to let him go. Tom was not at all upset to see us go. He was definitely more focused on being at camp. I knew he’d be fine during the day; it was the nights that I was worried about.
So what did they do at camp? Well I’m glad you asked!
Archery, soccer, rock wall, goalball, judo, swimming, dance, tennis, kayaking/canoeing, track & field, beep baseball, tandem biking, kickball, horseback riding, and bowling. They had two new additions this year: ice hockey and paddle boarding! They got to go to the Lemieux Sports Complex to ice skate and play hockey. Check out the International Blind Ice Hockey Federation on Facebook to see more picture of the day. And what a year to get to try ice hockey at the Lemieux Sports Complex; the Pittsburgh Penguins had just won the Stanley Cup! Check out Tommy’s name tag in the photo.
It was an incredible week for Tommy and all the kids at VIP Sports camp. I’m sure it was also a great, but tiring, experience for all the staff and volunteers at camp. Tom has been talking about all the kids and people he met since he came home. It’s very funny to hear him talk about the “college kids” as he calls them. That’s what the staff at WPSBC called the interns and volunteers who worked there. It’s funny to hear Tom calling anyone else a “kid.”
If you want to see what he did then check out, and like, the VIP Sports page on Facebook. There are videos and tons of pictures of the kids having fun.
I constantly checked the VIP Sports Facebook page hoping for a glimpse of Tommy while he was away. I did get to see him in many pictures and it made me feel tons better. We could have called him, but I was worried that if he heard our voices he’d want to come home. We waited every evening for a phone call telling us he was done, but it never came. He made it the whole week!
If you are in the Ohio, PA, or West Virginia area then please look into this organization for your blind child. They do an incredible job of making sports of all kinds accessible to children who are blind or visually impaired. It was also a great chance for Tom to spread his wings and hang out with a ton of kids. He needs social opportunities like this so badly!
There are many camps for children who are blind or visually impaired. Check out this article from Wonderbaby about 15+ Summer Camps for Blind Kids. Tom will be back at VIP Sports Camp next summer for sure – he’d go tomorrow if he could! But maybe we will try another camp too! It’s great to have options.
And to all the people who meet Tom when we are out and about and say, “Oh, that poor boy.” Well that boy has a pretty kick ass life if you ask me! This is just one of the incredible opportunities he has had and many more will follow. Tom does not have an ordinary life – he has an extraordinary life!
Learn More about VIP Sports Camp!
Slippery Rock University’s VIP Sports hosts a summer camp for boys and girls aged 5-18 who are blind or visually impaired and their siblings. The athletes stay in the Slippery Rock dorms and all staff and volunteers have the appropriate clearances required by the state of Pennsylvania and specialized training.