An Experience Like No Other
By: Jennifer Eaton, Coordinator of Youth Services/O&M Specialist
In February I was given the opportunity to attend the Team River Runner Key Largo OuttaSight Clinic.
Since returning I’ve been asked about my experience. I’ll be honest, it’s been difficult to put the week into words. There were so many things that happened and experiences that can only be fully appreciated if you were there in person. However, here’s a glimpse into what I experienced and witnessed during the clinic.
The group was comprised of 18 individuals from all over the East Coast and one individual from Nevada. There were seven OuttaSight paddlers. You may be asking yourself, what’s an OuttaSight paddler? An OuttaSight paddler is an individual who is blind or vision impaired. In addition to being an OuttaSight paddler, I also had the unique opportunity to put my professional skills to work throughout the week, as an Orientation and Mobility Specialist.
Each day started with morning briefings. We would meet as a whole group then split into two smaller groups. One group consisted of OuttaSight paddlers and the other was comprised of guides. This gave each group the opportunity to share thoughts on the previous day, or to share information. For example, one day the guides were put under blindfold and handed a white cane to experience being vision impaired, while the OuttaSight paddlers explored a new piece of equipment called Aira Vision. After the morning briefings it was time to load up and travel to the put-in location for the day, where the kayaks are dropped into the water.
We all came from different levels of paddling. Our guides consisted mostly of white water kayakers. Two of the OuttaSight paddlers were avid flat water and sea kayakers. For three of the OuttaSight paddlers, this was their first time in a kayak. However, once we were all in our kayaks and in the water we looked a group that had been paddling together for years.
While on the water, all paddlers are in their own individual kayak. Each OuttaSight Paddler has a guide. The OuttaSight Paddler and guide are a team. Each team decides the best method of guiding. For example, one team may work best with the guide in the lead and the OuttaSight simply follows. Another technique is when the guide is behind the OuttaSight paddler, giving verbal directions as to which direction to paddle towards. Some teams work best when the guides leads, while giving the OuttaSight paddler a constant sound to follow.
Due to ever-changing wind conditions our location changed on a regular basis, however, the wind was still able to find us. One day we found ourselves in open water paddling into 18-20 MPH winds. This was perhaps my favorite paddle day, because it was like being back in white water.
Sure, paddling was the purpose of the trip and for some the highlight, but there was much more to the week. What I’ve summarized are things that occurred on the surface. Below the surface, you would find that complete strangers came together as one. You would find individuals who overcame fears. You would find individuals who shared very personal insights and stories. You would find individuals who learned to trust others. You would find individuals who found their inner child. You would find individuals who stepped up and became leaders. You would find individuals who found a new purpose in life. Most importantly you would find individuals who shared an experience that they are truly grateful for and will never forget.