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Visual impairments no barrier to sports and fun

Kam King
August 19, 2014

Ramping up physical activity for youth with visual impairments

The average temperature in Anchorage, Alaska, in July hovers around 59 degrees.

For four EHE students, though, their experiences at Camp Abilities Alaska remain the warmest moments of their life.

Justin Haegele, an adapted physical education PhD student, co-directs a one-week developmental sports camp for children who are blind or have visual impairments.

While there, the 15 campers don’t feel different.

They can play specialized sports like beep baseball, where bases buzz to signal where players should run. They also go tandem biking and swimming.

Haegele’s work excited three undergraduate students so much that they joined him this past summer.

Physical Education Teacher Education majors Greg Behan, Brian Veverka and William Maddox served as volunteer counselors. They used the skills they learned throughout their undergraduate studies to enhance their athletes’ experiences.

“Camp Abilities Alaska was one of the funniest, craziest, most exhausting and most rewarding times of my life,” said Maddox, a Mechanicsburg, Ohio, native. “To see the impact this camp has on the kids changed my entire outlook on how I want to spend my future summers.

“I’m already saving up for next year.”

The students were honored for their commitment.

The athletes named Veverka, from North Royalton, Ohio, Coach of the Year, and Behan, a Westerville, Ohio, native, was named Most Favored Coach.

“Being able to share this amazing experience with undergraduate students was one of my favorite parts of the summer,” said Haegele.

Research to improve physical activity experiences

Haegele’s time in Alaska has influenced his doctoral research. The Long Beach, New York, native knows that typically, adolescents with visual impairments aren’t as physically active as their sighted peers. Haegele wants to change that fact.

His current research will use a talking pedometer to level the playing field for youth with visual impairments. He aims to show how it will allow them the ability to count their steps and stay physically active.

One thing Haegele will never forget? A special camper who created his own camp tradition.

“Each year, on the last day of camp, he would yell ‘Justin, only 258 more days until Camp Abilities.”

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