Owl Camp 2021

OWL Camp 2021

Have you ever been water skiing? Floating in the water, focused on keeping your feet parallel and the tips of the skis out of the water, ready to pull back against the boat as it tries to rip the handle from your grip. If you win the game of tug of war, you’re gliding on top of the water as the boat scoots along. Everyone says getting upright is the hardest part, but it doesn’t end there. Next, you have to pay close attention to any turns the boat takes in order to brace yourself and predict the changes you need to make to your balance.

Could you do it blind?

You might not think so. Year after year, NewView teaches young adults with low vision to water ski at O.W.L. Camp. O.W.L. Camp, or Oklahomans Without Limits, is one of NewView’s summer camps. It is a much more relaxed camp than Keys to Work, it’s likely exactly what you think of when you hear “summer camp.”

Campers hang out on the lake in the mornings, where they fish or swim off the dock. They take turns learning to water ski, knee board, and even wakeboard. NewView Oklahoma is fortunate to have some of the best optometrists and ophthalmologists in the state, and their impact does not end at eye care. This year, Larry Riley, O.D., and his wife, Judith Riley, O.D., volunteered both their boat and their time to these campers. Additionally, Blake Carlisle, O.D., and his wife, Bethaney, brought their boat, fitted with a boom that he uses for barefoot water skiing. The boom works perfectly for hoisting these low-vision campers up on skis. 

Once the lake gets busier, they head back to the lodge for lunch. After lunch, campers are free to hang out and spend time doing a variety of activities. A group favorite is Uno, which is easily made low-vision friendly by calling out the card color and number as they are played, followed closely by one of the 1,000-piece puzzles that took up a permanent spot on one of the dining tables.

In the heat of the afternoon, campers usually choose to spend time inside. If they aren’t upstairs playing card games or chatting while piecing together a puzzle, they’re downstairs playing pool or ping pong. Colton, a camper, was absolutely dominating the pool table. He navigated the game carefully, calculating angles and finding his best shot. When asked if he played pool often, he shrugged and casually said, “Not really.” A natural, Colton won every game on Saturday afternoon, then moved on to show his skills at ping pong. There’s nothing he can’t do! He was quite the legend this week at camp.

For these kids, it’s easy for their adolescence to be focused on what they can’t do. They begin to differ more from their peers. They don’t get their driver’s license or a car at 16. Some sports are not safe for them to participate in. But at OWL Camp, nothing is off-limits. Not even water skiing. NewView’s COTAs and volunteers help even some of the most reserved campers feel empowered to try something like water skiing, which previously seemed completely out of reach. This suddenly makes much more of life seem so much more accessible to them. 

In the evenings, you can find them playing tennis or basketball. These kids get pretty competitive, but they’re always rooting for each other. After spending a day at O.W.L Camp, you’d never know these kids had any kind of disability. Colton is a stellar pool player. Trinity is always down for a game of UNO. River is a fishing machine. Ben is quite the comedian, constantly bantering and cracking jokes about his lack of visual acuity. Chloe is hilarious and always the first to try new things, including driving the boat, assisted by Dr. Riley! 

Every one of these kids is inspiring, courageous, unique, and so many more wonderful things. Despite all that we hope they take away from our summer camp programs, it is truly NewView’s privilege to work with them to give them a sense of community and help them feel empowered and capable as they grow into adulthood.

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