Visually impaired get connected, active

Diane
Diane Crocker
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Don Connolly, right, of the Newfoundland and Labrador Visually Impaired Sports and Recreation Association, instructs Tony Monk on the game of croquet.

Tony Monk got a chance on Thursday to try out some sports that’s he’s never had the opportunity to do before.

The Corner Brook man has retinitis pigmentosa. He started losing his sight at the age of 11.

“I’ve got what they call light perception. I can see shadows and outlines,” he said of his vision.

But his vision doesn’t hold him back, as he enjoys getting out snowshoeing in the winter.

So he was all for joining with a few other visually impaired people from the area to try out golf, croquet and bocce ball.

The introduction to the sports was organized by the Newfoundland and Labrador Visually Impaired Sports and Recreation Association.

“It was fantastic,” said Monk. “I really enjoyed the day.”

He said the sports are all things he “most definitely” knew he could do. For him the obstacle to getting involved in activities has been a means of transportation and having someone there who can assist him.

“With a little bit of help it’s possible,” he said.

That’s why he likes the idea of a buddy system the association is trying to promote.

Don Connolly is the president of the St. John’s-based, non-profit association that has been in existence for about four years.

The project he used to introduce the sports is known as Visually Impaired Persons Connecting With Local Lions Clubs.

Connolly, who is also president of the Canadian Council of the Blind Newfoundland and Labrador Division, teamed up with the Humber Valley-Bay of Islands Chapter of the Canadian Council of the Blind to bring the project to the city. He also enlisted a few local Lions to help out.

Connolly said the benefits for a visually impaired person to get involved in sports go beyond the physical. He said there’s also an emotional, psychological benefit.

“Being accepted into the community. Being more a part of the community. There’s all sorts of  physical and psychological benefits of just being out and being active. And feeling that they can be a part of the community.”

But he said it’s not always easy for people to get involved.

“We know that there are a number of visually impaired people in communities across the province that sometimes don’t feel that they have the community support, or if you want a buddy system, to help them be able to get out and get active and involved in the community.”

So by working with Lions clubs, the association hopes to provide that buddy system.

If the clubs can’t provide the support themselves, then Connolly said they still have the ability to help.

“At least the Lions in the community would have a knowledge of what’s available in the community to get that particular individual the type of assistance they require.”

Darrell Pike is the president of the Humber Valley-Bay of Islands Chapter of the Canadian Council of the Blind. His goal right now is to keep the project going and the people active.

“This has been a real boost, I think, to our community,” he said. “Just to try these things.”

It was Pike’s first time on a golf course and he had a lot of fun. Pike lost his vision at the age of nine, but said it never held him back.

“There’s nothing I can’t do.”

He’s always been active and has fished, swam, hunted, hiked and curled.

To those who think they can’t do it, he said to try. But he knows there can be other challenges besides a visual impairment, which is why having the supports is so necessary.

He’s open to working with the Lions or anyone else interested in helping out to see something continue. Anyone interested in learning more about the program, or about how to help, can contact Connolly at 726-5975 or by email at donaldconnolly@hotmail.com.

Organizations: Canadian Council of the Blind Newfoundland and Labrador Division, Newfoundland and Labrador Visually Impaired Sports and Recreation Association, Local Lions Clubs

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Humber Valley

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