Saratoga Springs camp helps kids with visual impairments play sports

Camp Abilities participants ice skate at a variety of different levels in Saratoga Springs on Tuesday.
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Camp Abilities participants ice skate at a variety of different levels in Saratoga Springs on Tuesday.

SARATOGA SPRINGS– Camp Abilities is back in-person after hosting a virtual sports camp for two years.

Camp Abilities is a summer sports camp for visually impaired children and teens ages 10 to 16. Camp Abilities is a service project of the Saratoga Springs Lion’s Club that began in 2014. This year 12 campers are attending the week-long camp at Skidmore College.

“The whole idea is to focus on their self-esteem and their confidence and that kind of stuff,” Camp Abilities board member John McDonald said. “They are spending a week here, and for a lot of the kids it’s the first time they’ve been on the campus, or been away from home without their parents.”

Campers participate in a variety of different sports throughout the week. McDonald said that on Monday campers played kickball, practiced judo and swam. Campers also take part in track, tandem bicycling and other team sports.

“All of the sports are adaptive sports, to be able to compensate for the impairment vision,” McDonald said. “So when they play kickball the base beeps and the ball beeps. So once the ball is kicked the fielders have to go follow the beeps to get the ball. And once they pick it up, if they pick it up before the runner gets to the base that’s an out.”

There is no costs for campers to attend, McDonald said. He said grants, donations and fundraising efforts cover the cost of the camp.

“It’s great to really give these kids an opportunity to participate in sports and develop a like for a sport that could be life-long,” McDonald said. “We play a lot of sports that as adults they can still play. They can always get on a bike, they could always put on a pair of skates. What we’re really looking to do is give these campers an opportunity to gain appreciation for the opportunities that exist for everybody.”

The camp was recently recognized by Lions Clubs International and given a Kindness Matters Service Award, which recognizes Lions Clubs that have created a high impact service project. McDonald said it was one of only five awards presented in the United States and one of just 30 internationally.

Camp Director Tiffany Suppes has been with the camp since its beginning.

“Its our ninth year, and after being virtual for the past couple of years it’s really great that the kids are able to come back and participate in physical activity again,” Suppes said. “Our kids are typically the only one in their school district that has a visual impairment, its very isolating.”

The last two years the camp was virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Suppes explained the camp sent a lot of equipment home to campers and was able to let those who needed them use iPads to join in on Zoom. She said the camps held virtually did more individualized activities, such as yoga, and fewer team sports.

Some campers have never met another visually-impaired peer before coming to camp, Suppes said. She said that being able to make friends and connections is amazing.

“It’s difficult to be able to do physical activity sometimes if it’s not adapted appropriately, or if they don’t have access to the right modifications,” Suppes said. “So that’s something that we teach them here, that you can do so many different activities and sports.”

The camp also teaches participants how to advocate for themselves, as well as teaching how campers will be able to do these activities at home in their communities, Suppes said. She said this will help them to continue to be physically active for the whole year.

“Having a camp like Camp Abilities gives children with visual impairments an opportunity to make friends, interact, learn how to grow and advocate for themselves and really be able to enjoy sports and activities and build that confidence to go out and do it after camp,” Suppes said.

On Tuesday campers were bused to the Saratoga Springs Ice Rink to spend the morning ice skating. Some campers held onto walkers or camp counselors for assistance while they skated and others needed no assistance at all and were quickly skating circles around the rink. McDonald explained when people who are visually impaired play hockey they use a larger puck and it has ball bearings inside it so it makes noise as it is hit around the ice.

“I get to see all these people and do all these sports,” camper Ted Carl, 12, said. “I get to make new friends who actually understand like my technology unlike at school. And also they understand what it’s like. We had a conversation last night talking about stories and like situations we encountered because of visual impairment. I love coming here and I enjoy it very much.”

Fourteen-year-old twin campers Scout and Sabie Dowd said they like coming to camp because there are a lot of different activities they find fun and they get to be with different people.  Monday was the first time they had ever played kickball. This is their first year at Camp Abilities, they said.

“There’s a few first-time activities,” Sabie Dowd said. “And there’s people who are similar to us, so that’s nice. We like that.”

Categories: News, Saratoga County, Saratoga Springs

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