Giving Back: JoAnn Cranson Rides Tandem at Michigan Blind Athletic Associate Sports Camp and Gets Back More Than She Ever Expected
June 22nd, 2015 by Team OAM NOW / Athletic Mentors
By JoAnn Cranson, Team OAM Now Cyclist
It was Friday, late afternoon, after a long week at work and my motivation level had bottomed. Why had I signed up to assist with tandem rides for youth at Michigan Blind Athletic Association Sports Camp on that night? I fretted over it. Riding a tandem bike really requires two people working together and I worried that my partner and I would struggle. How could I help balance my partner on the bike, particularly when some might be my size or bigger?
The Michigan Blind Athletic Association Sports Camp aims to encourage students who are blind, grades K-12, to explore and discover their athletic abilities. While most of the young athletes are from Michigan, they do get participants from all over the United States. For many, it is their first opportunity to participate, while others are learning that they have incredible potential to not only participate, but excel in athletic pursuits.
On that Friday, May 15, I was pleased to learn that some of the young athletes had previous exposure to cycling; it was great to see that their loved ones had already shared a little about cycling with them. However, my first rider had never been on a bike before; I watched as she got a sense of the bike by feeling the seat, the pedals, handlebars, connecting bars, and every part of the bike—forming an image of it in her mind. She asked many questions until it made as much sense as it could before a rider has a firsthand experience.
I started off as a poor teacher; I took many things for granted, but soon learned to explain the importance of each part of the bike, what I would be doing, and what I would need from each of them – “keep pedaling to stay balanced,” “pedal harder when we are going uphill to keep moving,” “yeah, it’s okay to coast downhill.” In some ways, the learning curve might have been greater for me as a teacher than for them as a rider.
When it came time to ride, I didn’t hear one “I won’t” or “I can’t,” but rather each individual showed amazing courage and willingness to embrace the unknown. The trust and understanding the youth showed in following instructions was amazing to me. Everyone did their part on our tandem ride, relying on me for verbal instructions for parts that required sight. For instance: “We are going to be stopping soon, and on the count of three, I need you to take your right foot off the pedal, lean over, and put it down on the ground. Ready? One, Two, Three.” It was a smooth stop for every rider – all 10 of them.
After riding with the younger participants, Jessica and Scott, two college-age athletes who are blind, asked to ride with me as well. As soon as Jessica was pedaling, her joy was infectious; I was smiling ear-to-ear listening to the glee in her voice as she asked questions and made comments. Both of their lives are inspirational. Jessica just completed the Borgess ½ marathon with running guides to help her, and Scott ran in the Boston Marathon. Jessica is looking to complete a bi- or triathlon. Scott trains 3 hours/day indoors on a stationary bike getting ready for a triathalon.
Both are actively looking for captains in the Kalamazoo area to assist them in reaching these goals. If you, or anyone you know, would be interested in captaining for them, please let me know (I can be reached through Team OAM Now), and I can get you their contact information. You will be both inspired and motivated.
The experience clearly changed my attitude, prejudices, and perceptions about young athletes who are blind. In fact, I expected that most of the kids would simply be along for a thrill ride on the back of a tandem bike, but instead each was courageous, excited about sports and cycling, and eager to put in effort; sometimes it’s nice to be wrong.
The camp obviously offers an invaluable experience to the participants, but also for the volunteers. I may have gotten more benefit and energy from the students than I was able to give them in return. It always amazes me that when you volunteer to help others, you often receive more from the experience than the people you are helping. All in all, it was a pretty great way to spend a Friday night.
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