Camp helps visually impaired children enjoy thrill of sports

Coach in green shirt stands next to camper in blue shirt
TWU student Gabe Cruz (left) with his camper at Camp Abilities Pennsylvania

July 3, 2024 – DENTON –Texas Woman’s graduate student and public school teacher Gabe Cruz is on summer break, but he isn’t exactly relaxing. Instead, Cruz will be outside in the Texas heat, coaching young athletes in sports such as beep baseball and tandem biking. But that’s exactly where Cruz wants to be.

Cruz is volunteering at Camp Abilities Texas, which runs from July 7-13. Camp Abilities is a one-week-long educational sports camp that is operated around the world and is designed specifically for children and youth with visual impairments and blindness. The camp teaches children between 9 and 18 what they can do in the areas of sports and recreation. 

“I just fell in love with it,” Cruz said about last year’s camp. “It was so much fun. Being able to change a normal ‘no, we can’t do something for someone with a visual impairment,’ to ‘yes, this is how we are going to do it.’ We are going to make a special game.”

CATX, as the camp is also known, is hosted on the TWU campus, mostly at Pioneer Hall but also at the Fitness and Recreation Center and the softball complex. CATX is planned by camp co-directors are Lisa Hanson and Gina Puccia and administered under the Denton Public School Foundation.

Each athlete is supported by a coach, many of whom are TWU adapted physical education graduate students and alumni. Athletes are given individualized instruction on a variety of sports, including swimming and gymnastics, with the modifications they need to be successful. 

TWU staff member in maroon shirt shakes hand with camper in blue shirt
TWU professor Suzanna Dillon greets a camper at 2023 Camp Abilities Texas

Cruz first became intrigued by vision impairment sports while watching goalball during the 2021 Paralympic Games. Goalball is played exclusively by athletes who are blind or vision impaired. The objective is to throw a ball using a bowling motion past an opposing team of three players and into their net to score points. Players, wearing opaque eyeshades to ensure fair competition, stay on their hands and knees and listen for the ball, which contains bells. 

“It was so much fun to watch,” Cruz said. “It’s pretty intense.” 

Goalball got him excited for last year’s camp, which Cruz worked to fulfill a practicum for his  kinesiology master’s degree. The master’s degree has an emphasis in adapted physical activity, or APA. After a rewarding experience, he and three of his classmates came back to volunteer this summer. Other staff include adapted PE teachers, teachers of the visually impaired, and orientation and mobility visually impaired, and orientation and mobility specialists. 

“For the coaches, CATX provides an opportunity for professional, as well as personal growth,” said Suzanna Dillon, a Texas Woman’s kinesiology professor and TWU point person for CATX. “In fact, I would say that for the campers and coaches alike, CATX can be a life-changing experience.”

Dillon says that sometimes in schools and community-based activities, staff are not prepared to include students with disabilities. 

“CATX is designed to support students with visual impairments in physical activity, provide them with the opportunities for challenge by choice, and honor their autonomy in all of the camp activities,”  she said.

a camper in dark blue shirt stands next to his coach in light blue shirt
Gabe Cruz (right) with his camper at Camp Abilities Texas

Cruz’s involvement with Camp Abilities and VI sports did not stop after camp. Cruz competed in a sprint triathlon with one of the CATX campers last October. 

“I had a bungee cord set that attached to me and him,” Cruz said. “We swam together and I was able to cheer him along. We had a tandem bike and we had a tether for the run. It was so much fun. He got third in his age group. At the end, he wanted to know when we were doing the next one.” 

In May, Cruz volunteered at Camp Abilities Pennsylvania in West Chester, Penn., and was paired with a 14-year old athlete. 

“He hadn’t done many VI sports,” Cruz said. “He was a natural in everything.”

Cruz plans on graduating in May 2025, and plans to transition from teaching special education math to special education PE. Cruz’s dream is to start up VI sports at a public school.

“They (children with vision impairments) are able to do anything. If they need help, we need to help and break down that barrier.”


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Page last updated 3:14 PM, July 3, 2024