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Sports for visually impaired individuals supported by annual charity run

By Christie Melhorn, November 24 2017 — 

In my time as a dancer, I’ve always found navigating a pitch-black stage during show transitions both nerve-wracking and enthralling. Unable to rely on vision, blackouts sharpen my other senses, amplifying the pattering of feet across the floor and thickening the air with anticipation. When the lights reveal the stage, the built-up energy surges and carries into the shadowed crowd.

For many visually impaired individuals, the physical experience of a blackout period is an everyday reality. The members of Alberta Sports and Recreation Association for the Blind (ASRAB) prove that bright lights or vision aren’t necessary to be a powerful and spirited athlete or performer. On Nov. 18, ASRAB honoured this during their annual fundraiser, Sight Night — an evening run along the Bow River Pathway starting at Eau Claire Market.

ASRAB was founded in 1975 to improve the well-being of visually impaired individuals through adaptive physical activity programs. Both competitive and recreational streams are available for a wide spectrum of ages in various sports and activities, such as dance, golf and archery. ASRAB’s trademark sport is Goalball — a game involving two teams who score points by bowling a ball fitted with bells into the opposite net.

The association provides volunteer opportunities for students across all faculties but offers especially relevant experience for kinesiology or physical literacy students.

ASRAB program coordinator and dance instructor Miranda Brown says Sight Night helps secure the accessibility and quality of these programs.

“Sight Night promotes who we are and our mandate, which is to give people who are visually impaired or blind access to sports and recreational activities. Funds raised ensure we can keep these programs running,” Brown said. “Each runner is helping to make our programs a success throughout the year.”

Within many physical literacy programs, the term ‘pathway’ describes mechanisms used to cultivate an individual’s confidence and skills based on their specific needs. Sight Night takes place along the dark river pathway is open to anyone who wants to participate allowing both visually impaired and full-sighted people to literally share the same path, Brown says the event’s symbolic and sensory elements make it a meaningful community-building activity.

“Some of the more competitive athletes don’t get the chance to meet with the recreational members so we all get to connect,” Brown said. “Running at night gives the experience of being visually impaired and taking part in an activity, such as running. Getting to share pathways and the experience — seeing how some members run with guide dogs or by holding on to elbows — is really important.”

Brown says teaching dance with ASRAB has been personally enriching and educational.

“The first time I adapted [choreography], I had to be more descriptive than I thought,” Brown said. “They wouldn’t end up doing the move I thought they would. To correct it, I was always very respectful. I would ask to move their bodies and try to keep it simple. Once they know the literacy, they can get it.”

Sight Night’s 2017 honorary chair was 10-year-old ASRAB member Zach Abdalla, who Brown says is full of enthusiasm and positivity. Abdalla is legally blind and has Marfan syndrome, a genetic condition that affects connective tissues and sight. Abdalla agrees that Sight Night breaks down barriers.

“I like Sight Night because you’re not just with visually impaired people but you’re with non-blind people. Doing it at night makes you feel more equal with everyone,” he said.

ASRAB director of active living Philip Schuman emphasizes that the event has evolved to be more family-friendly.

“We’re more geared towards a family and community-oriented evening,” Schuman said. “We want to offer an intimate experience with a nice twist on a charity run.”

The event’s greater inclusion of children is especially important, as ASRAB’s executive director Linda MacPhail says that it is ideal for ASRAB members to join as youth.

“A lot of the people who come to us have a congenital eye situation that develops as they get older,” MacPhail said. “So the younger that we can teach them fundamental movement skills, the more prepared they are for sports.”

Around 250 people participated in the 2017 Sight Night to support recreational programs for visually impaired and blind Albertans. Click here to learn more about ASRAB and here for more information about Sight Night.

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