Winnipeg group challenges visually impaired to face fears, try sports

The Manitoba Blind Sports Association says fear prevents many visually impaired people from enjoying the range of sports they can play safely, including soccer and golf.
Visually impaired kids learn how to rock climb with Manitoba Blind Sports Association on Sunday at the University of Winnipeg. (CBC)

Fear of the unknown is a powerful force. For the visually impaired, it can be debilitating.

The Manitoba Blind Sports Association encouraged families to overcome their fears at an event at the University of Winnipeg RecPlex on Sunday, where 12 participants gathered to try out games such as soccer, rock climbing and goalball — a team sport designed for blind athletes.

"There's a hesitancy in sports because you've got a handicap … but not playing in sport is a bigger loss to them," said Paul Nicolas, president of the Manitoba Blind Sports Association.

Sports offer valuable physical benefits, but group activities also have an important social element, Nicolas said.

"You get good friends out of these programs," he said. "Then, if you're competitive, you can go to play in different tournaments."

Parents, who can be "very scared" their child will get hurt by a wayward ball, also need to get on board, Nicolas said.

The games organized by his association are fully adapted to blind participants and use equipment with audio cues, so players can follow the balls by relying solely on their ears and tactile perception, he said.

Kerry St. Vincent's twin sons have been visually impaired since birth. His boys are often left out in gym class because of their disability, he said. They have been told to stay in the weight room while others played, he said.

"Not that the teacher didn't try, but it's hard," said St. Vincent. "By having Manitoba Blind Sport, we can try out some different activities and try to keep them active."

Manitoba Blind Sports Association is working to expand its membership and attract members from outside Winnipeg. Right now only about 40 people are part of the association.

"It becomes a cost issue in getting our name out there, but that is something we do want to develop," Nicolas said.

The range of sports offered to visually impaired Manitobans includes swimming, rowing, cross-country skiing, lawn bowling, golf and goalball.


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