Monthly Archives: April 2015

A Team Sport I Never Saw Coming…

I am admitting it here: I am a total freak for all things sports.  I like to play ’em.  I like to watch ‘em.  And oh my do I love screaming and cheering from the sidelines when my kids are playing! I grew up spending more time on ball fields than anywhere else.  Now, I am a soccer/basketball/baseball/wrestling/swimming/golf mom, and I love every second of it.

I have more spirit wear for my kids’ school and club teams in my closet than a normal adult should, and I wear it all proudly.  I love the competitions.  I love watching my kids respond to great coaches.  I love seeing the incredible friendships that are made on fields, courts and in the pool lanes.  But most of all, I absolutely love the team aspect: winning or losing, working together as a team to accomplish goals.

Two of my kids are blind – not totally in the dark blind, but “so blind” they read braille, use a white cane, and have no idea what they look like –  so you can imagine my fear for them that they would never be able to participate in team sports.  Ugh… how would they ever know the feeling of winning and losing as a team…. the high fives for the great saves and the pat on the back when it didn’t go right? I feared they would miss out on what had been such a huge part of my life and so many other kids’ lives.  Luckily, we were blessed to find a blind sports program near our home where my boys learned the basics of a few sports and eventually transitioned to the regular sports in our town with only a few accommodations.

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As my guys got older, though, kids got bigger, stronger, faster.  My guys were once able to maneuver an indoor soccer court and football field with minimal assistance… but as the years went on it became too unsafe to be involved in many of their favorite pastimes: football and soccer days are over, and my older son can’t play baseball anymore.  They still play some regular sports and they are involved in sports programs for the blind.  However, not wanting to limit their social opportunities at school and in the community, we looked for alternatives for them to participate.

Enter Stage Right:

Luckily, our elementary school has an opportunity each year for the oldest class, the 6thgrade, to be involved in a play.  Lots of the kids join the fun of either performing or being a part of the stage crew.  Some of the kids participate because theater is their passion… but most, like my guys, participate because it is fun and most of their friends are involved.  I was thrilled when my oldest son signed up for the play when he was in 6th grade… it so happened that was the time that his blindness was leaving him on the sidelines of sports and social encounters.  This was a chance for him to socialize with the kids and have something “productive” to do.

My son enjoyed his very, very small role in that little version of “Aladdin” so much that he signed on to be in the 7th grade play at middle school… and it was, oh my, a musical.  The problem was not all of the songs to learn… my guy is a musician, he was fine with that.  The problem, the challenge here, was the dancing, the moving all over the stage with 20+ other kids.  They had to move in unison, while singing, all over the stage and out into the theater! Arms up, arms down, move right, move left, spin, jump, turn, right, left.  Yikes!

My son is a team player in every sense of the word: he had a role in the play and he was going to be as perfect as he could.  He would meet the choreographer early before school to review all the steps of every single number.  After school, he split time between his wrestling team and the show rehearsals and while he was in the rehearsals, he worked hard on meshing his moves with all the other kids.

IMG_5739When opening night came I was sick with worry: I had not seen any rehearsals because my son wanted to surprise me.  He assured me he had perfected his role.  When the curtain opened and I watched him sing and move all around the stage it took my breath away.  I watched and worried that he’d crash into one of the other actors, or fall off the stage (I am sure he is cringing reading this and thinking “thanks for the confidence, Mom”) He didn’t crash or fall.  In fact, he was magnificently right on cue, for an hour and a half.   I went to every single performance and relaxed more and more knowing that he would nail it every single time.

It took me a few more shows (he went on to be in Les Miserables in 8th grade and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 9th) to realize that while my son perfects his role in the play, everyone else, while perfecting their own roles, is also working to be sure my son hits his mark every time.  If you watch closely, you notice that different actors have different cues for him to be sure he gets to where he needs to be on stage.  During song and dance numbers, you can see someone gently tap my son’s shoulder to cue a move in that direction.  When there is a lot of movement on the stage, you will notice someone guide my son’s arm – the arm not facing the audience.  You have to look closely to see it, and I guess because I am the panicked mom I notice it.  But that is only part of the time… the bigger aspect in the process is that while my son is counting every step from one mark to another, the other actors have to be reliable in their own movements on the stage.  If another actor isn’t where they are supposed to be, it throws my son’s count off and thereby his performance off.

While it sounds like a lot of work and a lot of extra effort, I am not really sure if it is or not.  The way it looks to me, as I watch the performances and listen to all the kids interact after the shows, it seems it is all just part of the teamwork they put in to live their passion for the stage.

I guess you could argue that my son has a knack for making these kinds of things happen and it isn’t really that others are team players on the stage, it is my son that makes all that happen.  I can tell you from discussions with him that it is indeed a team effort, between him and the rest of the cast… but I can also tell you that this isn’t isolated to just this group of actors.  My younger son tried theater in our 6th grade program this year and the exact same thing happened.  He perfected his role, and the actors around him perfected the slight guiding, the ever so subtle cue, and their own roles.

10426253_10205942211892904_1487532276291761701_nLike I said, I never would have thought of a theater production as a team sport.  Perhaps I would have thought of it metaphorically as in they all work together to pull off the show.  But from firsthand experience I can now say that from open to close of that curtain, and all the work leading up to it, the cast and crew of a show work as a team… perfecting their own roles and supporting each other to make everyone successful.  The best teams pull off the greatest performances.  I am quite blessed to have witnessed several of the best and my guys are blessed to be involved with such great teams.

The Eye Believe in Miracles BLOG is written by Kristin Smedley, mom of two sons living with blindness.  If you would like Kristin to speak to your company or organization about moving out of fear, past challenges, Out of Darkness and Into Greatness, send her an email at curingretinalblindness@gmail.com.   If you would like to Join The Mission to help fund cures for retinal diseases please DONATE here.    Together we can do so much.

Read why America’s favorite past time almost passed this family by…

mitch trophy

I am a baseball mom.  I was at a bunch of stores this week getting the right cleats and a new glove for the start of the new season.  I went through the drawers and bins to be sure all the baseball pants are ready and all the “cold gear” and “heat gear” are set.  I have my blankets and bleacher cushion and super-mega pixel/zoom/zillions-of-frames-per-second camera ready to go

My baseball son is 10, and this is his first year in the “big league”: they can finally steal home and there are playoffs, which means…. cue the Rocky music… there is a Championship trophy at stake!

Yep, I am a baseball mom…but there was a time when I never thought I’d be one… and for my older son, my baseball mom days are over.  So I am gonna ride this baseball wave like the proud, excited, happier than ever cheering mom that I am… just as soon as I get over my start of the new season nerves.

You see, my baseball son is blind, not completely “in the dark” blind, but so blind that he can’t see how many fingers you are holding up when you stand just a couple feet away from him.  And like his older blind brother years ago, he is on a “regular” baseball team in the league where all his buddies from his “regular”” school play.  Yes, there are blind sports programs and my sons participate in them.  But my guys also want to be able to take the same field as their buddies, and trash talk at school about teams that “cheat” and umps that “stink” and dugouts that are “cool”.  It’s a kid thing… not a sighted kid thing, just a kid thing.. and my guys want in.

Although he is in a league where the kids outgrew a batting tee a long time ago, my son has to hit off the tee because he can’t see a pitch coming to him.  He runs the bases utilizing a coach’s voice calling him.  And he plays the outfield with another teammate: the teammate fields the ball, hands it to my son, and the player awaiting the throw gives him a sound cue for a throwing target.

After weeks of snow and rain cancelling all baseball warm up activities, we finally had the first scrimmage game  and I was likely the most nervous person in town.  I was nervous about the kids accepting a blind teammate.  I was nervous about the parents accepting a blind player.  I was nervous the coaches would give my son a “sympathy” try here and there but not fully include him.

I sat shyly on the bleachers chatting a bit with parents and awaited the question I dread, “Which player is yours?” I tried saying “Mine’s the short one”, but this year there is actually a player shorter than my son.  I tried to say “Mine’s the one with the big mouth”, but there are lots of big mouths on a team of 10 to 12 year old boys.  So I figured I may as well get it over with: “Mine’s the blind guy.”  Maybe it’s because my family has been in this community so long, or maybe the coaches talked to the other parents about my son, I am not sure the reason, but parents on this team didn’t give a raised eyebrow, they didn’t have a look of “OMG”… they simply smiled with a “that’s cool” kind of look and then let me know which son was theirs.  Wow, my nerves were calming a bit.

No sooner did I calm down, the game started and first to walk out of the dugout and up to bat… my son.  The tee was set.  The fielders took their “ready position.”  My son gently ran his hand over the ball on the tee and lined himself up to swing at it.  My heart was pounding and I could barely breathe.  You see, I know everyone wants their kid to get a hit.  I know everyone wants the team to win.  I couldn’t have cared less about most of it at that moment: for me, if my son misses, there is the fear that folks are thinking “Oh bless his heart the poor blind kid can’t see the ball”  And if he misses there is the fear that the teammates are thinking “Oh great, we have a blind kid messing up our lineup.”  I feel like the “changing what it means to be blind” mantra of our family is at stake.

Up at the plate, my son pulled the bat back and with his mighty swing he hit the ball… and he hit it hard. It was a hard grounder to the shortstop.  My son learned years ago that a ball can only go so far when hit off a tee… so he learned to run really fast to beat the throw to first.  And this time, he ran faster than ever… and he beat the throw to first!

The teammates in the dugout went crazy, as they always do for a guy that gets a hit… and hearing them cheering “Way to go Mitchell!” made my heart skip a beat.  Mitchell’s proud, excited smile is all I can think about.  He did it.  He helped his team and they are proud of him… and he is proud of himself.

Mitchell went on to hit a pop fly his second at bat and a single into center field on his final at bat.  He played all positions in the outfield and sat the bench in the rotation, just like every other player.  The other players guided him when he needed it  and laughed at his dumb jokes, just like every other player.

At the end of the game, the other parents did not say “Oh good job for the blind guy.”  They did not say “Good hits off the tee.”  They all said “Wow….  He can run really fast!” Imagine that… I was so fixated on making sure my son could keep up with hitting and fielding like everyone else, I forgot that he has an incredible talent that makes him stand out as a player, not a blind or sighted player, just a player.

PS – My older son, Michael, used to play but due to his blindness it isn’t safe for him to be on the “regular” field anymore.  Although our family is working to find a cure for this blindness, it likely won’t be ready in the three years my 10 year old, Mitchell, has to play in this competitive yet inclusive league.  So if you see me cheering a bit loudly or notice tears of joy spilling down my face, know that I am savoring every single second of being a baseball mom 🙂  And I hope every baseball mom cherishes the fact that their child can play, whether they are a superstar or not 🙂  

Meet my son Mitchell and our family at our fundraising site for the Curing Retinal Blindness Foundation  www.bikethebasin.org