Saturday, June 07, 2008

Visually impaired enjoy cycling event, tandem style!

LeeAnn Buckingham used to compete in running and bicycling marathons.When she began to lose her sight and later was declared legally blind, Buckingham thought her days of being athletic were over.The Okemos woman was one of 20 blind or visually impaired children and adults who participated in Saturday's second annual Camp T. Tandem Cycling Weekend at the Greenville Area Community Center and on the Fred Meijer Flat River Trail.Camp Tuhsmeheta and Opportunities Unlimited for the Blind organized the event.

"Bike riding was something I used to really enjoy. Now I can do it again," said Buckingham with a smile filling her face. "I can exercise, I can get outdoors, I'm excited. There are a lot of us here that are really enthused."Her husband, Jim, and the other sighted team captains received instruction from another husband-wife team, Nino and Marie Pacini of Detroit, who are amateur bicycle racers.

They both are also legally blind."Nino and I ride a number of marathons each year and wanted to be able to share the opportunity with other blind or visually impaired," Marie said. "Just because you are blind doesn't mean your life is over. There are downhill and cross country skiing competitions, kayaking and cycling races all for blind participants. You can be as active as you want to be."The participants also received instruction about the various sized tandem and the three-person bikes."The captain tells the stoker when they are turning or when to stop pedaling," Marie explained.

"You don't want one rider braking as the other is pedaling furiously."Captains also were told how to help visually impaired riders enjoy the scenery. They were instructed to describe the meandering Flat River, a group of three ducks bobbing on the water and water bubbling over a fallen log.The blind riders also used their ears to hear echoes as they rode under a bridge and felt the wind on their faces as they sped down the trail."I loved the sounds of the water and how the trees were blowing and feeling the wind blow my hair," said Chelsea Henrizi, 16, of Mulliken, who was born blind.

Socialization is also important for the blind and visually impaired."I go to a sighted school where I am the only blind person there," Henrizi said. "Coming to things like this reminds me there are other people out there that are just like me.""The one unique thing about our camp is it is a camp of blind people who are teaching bind people about blindness," said George Wurtzel of Opportunities Unlimited for the Blind and Camp Tuhsmeheta.Like most of the employees there, he is also blind.

"Events like this lets blind people be on the same playing field as the sighted person," Wurtzel said. "The sighted person in front can't ride without the second person in back. They are dependent on each other to work together."Following the trail ride and a picnic lunch, riders returned to Camp Tuhsmeheta for an opportunity to do off-road mountain biking.


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