By: Stephanie Ross, USABA Contributor
Caroline and Cole Carper were born with Leber’s congenial amaurosis (LCA) RPE 65, a disease that eventually leads to total blindness.
“It was hard because we really didn’t know what their abilities were going to be,” Caroline and Cole’s mother, Ashley Carper, said. “We had never been around other individuals who are visually impaired or blind, and it felt very scary as we worked our way out of that grief and mindset.”
With limited exposure to the blind and visually impaired community in Little Rock, the Carpers had to figure out ways to empower their kids to maintain independence, despite their disabilities. For Ashley, raising Caroline and Cole with the mindset that they can do anything they want by accepting their vision impairment was important.
“I don’t think we’ve allowed [their vision impairment] to limit our kids,” Carper said. “We wanted to let them fall and fail, because there’s no other way they’ll learn to be a typical child. I wanted to teach them that the sooner you accept your impairment, the easier it is to live your life fully and the quicker their peers are able to adapt.”
While the kids had been active in sports at a young age, the Carper family was having a hard time getting them involved at an older age due to the advanced skill set of the other players.
“I had the kids play sports when they were little and where everyone got to play and participate,” Carper said. “Even though it’s so hard to see your kids fall and get hurt as a mother, I know that’s the way they learn and grow. But now at their age, you have to be really good to play on a team.”
In March 2018, the Carpers attended United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA)’s annual adaptive ski camp in Breckenridge, having skied only once before. The camp opened a new world of opportunities available to Caroline and Cole.
“USABA’s ski camp gave the kids so much confidence,” Carper said. “I saw Caroline talking to a table of adult men about being blind, and they got to share their wisdom with her. She didn’t need me at all! My husband and I came away with so much – we saw the kids have lifelong contacts independent of us and they didn’t need me to be their communicator.”
While Caroline and Cole gained confidence on the slopes using a guide, they were also able to walk away with a network of peers in similar situations.
“The sporting aspect of the ski camp was fabulous, but the community aspect – being able to stay in the same cabin with the other athletes – was the most important part,” Carper said. “As a parent, I saw and talked to the other participants who were successful, happy and doing whatever they wanted to do despite their vision impairment. I just remember thinking my kids could do anything and it was so important for the kids to be able to see that, too.”
For parents going through a similar journey, Carper advises families to “just go.”
“My advice to families is to find a way to go to one of the camps,” Carper said. “You will not regret it one minute. Experiencing the athletics of it and the community feel had a huge impact on us as a family. We’ll definitely attend other camps – we all loved it.”
Applications for the 2019 Breckenridge Ski Camp are available now! Click here to learn more about the camp. Space fills up quickly so apply soon!