By Bert Williams.
"Get ready to run, Eddie," yells Jessica.
Eddie, sporting a big grin, is clearly ready.
Alexandria moves with uneven gait toward the tee at home plate. A ball on the tee emits an electronic beep like a diminutive dump truck running in reverse.
Alexandria Lepulu is from Colorado Springs. She can't run, and even her walking is labored due to a disease known as Hallervorden Spatz, but she can use her partial sight and good ears, and she swings the bat accurately.
Eddie Isenhart, also of Colorado Springs, has cerebral palsy. He is completely blind. He usually misses the beeping ball when he swings, and he runs the base paths with a sideways limp, but it doesn't matter. Eddie loves to run.
So Alex takes her cut, the beeping ball bounds toward the shortstop, camp counselor Livan Kotanko.
Eddie, guided by camp counselor Mya Gallegos, careens toward first base. He's safe.
Next up is Ray Shaw, probably 30 years older than Jessica, Eddie and Alexandria. Shaw lives with his wife Debbie in Lompoc, California. The Shaws have operated a needlepoint shop in the tourist village of Solvang near Santa Barbara for the past 25 years. They have repeat customers from all over the world; but this week Shaw is not a businessman; he's a camper.
Shaw usually walks with a white cane, but this evening he strides toward the beeping ball with a bat. He takes a level cut, and smokes a line drive over the left fielder's head. Eddie and Mya lurch around second base and head for third. Ray, without cane, runs off-line in the general direction of first base, laughing.
It's an after-supper pickup softball game at the YMCA Camp of the Rockies in Estes Park. The game has been organized by counselors of National Camps for Blind Children.
The organization has operated a summer camp for the blind and visually impaired in Estes Park for the past 10 years, according to the Fred Herrara, NCBC's Colorado representative. Having begun in 1967 as an arm of Christian Record Services, Inc., NCBC operates two dozen summer camps and three winter camps for visually impaired of all ages, spread across the continent from Maine to Texas to California.
Earlier on the day of the softball game, 29 campers spread out to ride horses, take the aerial tram up Prospect Mountain, ride bicycles and canoes at the marina, and participate in archery and craft projects at the camp.
The next day, 27 campers and counselors went white water rafting on the Poudre River. The following day, the group rode vans to Winter Park to ride alpine slides and participate in other outdoor activities. Rock climbing was also on the week's itinerary.
"So why do blind people want to do these things when they can't see what they're doing?" a rider on the Prospect Mountain tram asked one of the counselors.
The counselor later put the question to a group of campers coming back down from the top of the mountain.
"Well, you don't have to see it to feel it," said Ron Roe of Denver.
"There's a lot more to enjoying things than just looking at them," said Arturo Sanchez of Denver.
Sight is only one of the five senses, noted the counselor later, and that doesn't count one's emotional response.
At supper in the cafeteria, Shaw sat eating with Julia Kunter of Angels Camp, California. Kunter has ridden more than 90,000 miles with her husband since 1997 on a Honda Goldwing motorcycle.
She began losing her central vision in 1998 due to a rare disease known as pseudo xanthoma elasticum. She still has her peripheral vision.
Shaw has had retinitis pigmentosa since birth. He has gradually lost all of his peripheral vision, and describes his current vision as "like looking through a soda straw."
"If Julia can find it, I can usually figure out what it is," said Shaw with a chuckle.
Shaw and Kunter, both in their early 50s, lead full lives without going to camp, but they like camp a lot.
"Blind camp is a great equalizer," said Shaw. "At home, Julia is the only blind person in her town. I'm one of maybe eight or nine in Lompoc. But here we're not unique. It's almost like the disability goes away. It's a nice relief to shed the label and just be normal."
The camp provides a wide variety of activities that are designed for blind participants, Kunter explained, so it's a great way to experience a lot of activities in a short time without having to explain to travel agents or guides about blindness.
"And besides, the kids keep us young," said Shaw.
National Camps for Blind Children is a non-profit organization with headquarters in Lincoln, Nebraska. Blind and visually impaired campers attend camps free of charge. NCBC is supported by the donations of individuals and businesses throughout the country. More information is available from National Camps for Blind Children, 4444 South 52nd St., Lincoln, Nebraska 68506-0987. Phone: (402) 488-0981; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; website: www.christianrecord.org.