Twelve-year-old Maria DeNooy stepped onto the trampoline, strapped into the harness and then off she went—soaring higher and higher with every bounce.
“It’s fun,” she said, smiling as she retrieved her cane upon her return to Earth.
Jumping was just one of the many activities Maria and other children enjoyed at the recent Visually Impaired Sports & Activity Day sponsored by Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and pediatric ophthalmologists Brooke Geddie, DO, and Patrick Droste, MD.
This is the third time Maria, who was adopted from China two years ago, joined the Sports Day festivities with her family. The DeNooy family includes two daughters with visual impairments, and they plan to adopt another child soon from China, said her dad, Randy DeNooy.
Sports day is a hit with the whole crew.
“When we are pulling out of the drive, the kids are already looking forward to next year,” he said.
About 50 children with visual impairments registered for the event. With their parents and siblings, the crowd numbered about 200.
The event at Wealthy Elementary School in East Grand Rapids gives kids a chance to jump in a bounce house, climb a rock wall, swim, play goalball, create crafts and perform in a talent show.
“Our goal is to let kids step out of their comfort zone and try something they have never tried before,” Dr. Geddie said.
Parents also get a chance to connect with other families with children who are visually impaired and to learn about resources in the community.
The parents of 2½-year-old Luna Loveless have attended the event for three years and enjoy seeing their daughter take part in more activities each time.
“I love this event so much,” Matthew Loveless said.
Talking with other parents, they learn how to prepare for the milestones that lie ahead for their daughter in the coming year.
When they first learned Luna was blind, Matthew said he questioned how successfully blind people could navigate life.
Seeing all the accomplishments of older kids at the sports day has helped change his thinking.
“It’s unfathomable how well they can do,” he said.
Empowering younger kids
Lizzie and Michael Dunn, 22-year-old twins, have attended the event since they were in first grade.
As a kid, “it meant a lot to me,” Lizzie said. “I had a lot of fun. And I got to meet other blind people.”
Now students at Alma College, the twins have outgrown many of the kid-friendly activities, but they enjoy performing in the talent show and sharing their experiences with younger kids. Lizzie played piano and accompanied several children as they sang or performed in the talent show.
“I feel like I’m really empowering the little kids,” Lizzie said.
Michael recalled the first time he played beep baseball—a game geared toward athletes with visual impairments.
The event gives kids a chance to be more independent and try new activities, he said.
“It’s especially an opportunity for them to be more brave,” he said.
Parents and families gain just as much, he added. The event “shows sighted people that blind people are more capable than sighted people realize.”
Daniel and Alyssa Going cuddled their 3-month-old son, Raleigh, as they watched older kids perform in the talent show.
Born with glaucoma, their son underwent surgery at a couple of weeks old to relieve pressure in his eyes. They don’t know how much his vision will be affected.
Seeing the children helped relieve their worries about Raleigh’s future.
“Today has brought a lot of hope,” Alyssa said. “Instead of dreading the future, it has made me hopeful.”