Those words rang out to the 114 blind kids and their parents or family members at the Salt Lake 2002 Paralympic Games at Snow Basin Ski Resort on March 9, 2002. All of the children had a reading disability that prevented them from reading regular-sized print. Some had been blind from birth, others had some vision, yet not enough to make reading a regular-sized print book work out. All were from Utah or Wyoming and some had come in from very long distances.
It was just so great that the kids that needed it the most–those that may be able to participate in the Paralympic games in the future–were able to attend. They experienced being there when others who were also blind were speeding downhill. The right..right…right…left…left…left…were the instructions that the coach to a blind skier said as they guided their Paralympic star down the steep course.
Sure, the kids couldn’t see the event, or at least not very well by most standards, but then, neither could the blind skiers. Still, there was much they could do. The parent(s) could describe what was happening. They could feel the chill and the excitement in the air. They could share with others from all over the world in their same circumstance, some much worse (or better) than themselves. They could hear what was happening, experience the moment when winners stood on the stands as the crowds roared in approval. They could be a regular part of the Games experience. They could plan, they could scheme, they could dream.
How did they get this rare opportunity? They read. Either in braille, by recorded book (in those days on cassette), or in large print. I should say they read and they read and they read. They all got to attend because they’d worked so hard for it.
All of the Utah children that participated in the Utah State Library for the Blind’s Summer Reading program in 2001 were invited to attend. Those that completed their reading goals received the free tickets. Free to them, that is. Two tickets were donated by a community sponsor to each child that completed their reading goals; the Salt Lake Olympic Committee worked hard to make that work out for the kids. That was one ticket for the child with a visual disability, one for a parent or family member.
They attended the Women’s blind division downhill racing as well as the Men’s downhill racing events. The day was crisp and clear. The crowds were excited. They were all experiencing things they had never seen before. It was just that great.
Because of his outstanding efforts at reading during the Summer Reading Program, Quinn Price, a 12-year-old patron of the Library for the Blind, was invited to be a torch runner at the opening of the Paralympic games, on March 7, 2002, at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City. His father and grandfather ran with him: behind him, so they could give directions and encouragement, but he could be the one in the front of the pack. Quinn was an outstanding student and did an exceptional job of meeting his reading goals during the previous summer.
An unexpected surprise: some of the children that participated in the Summer Reading Program were invited to the groundbreaking of the All Abilities Play Park at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City. The children got to dig a shovel of dirt and meet some of the paralympic heroes at the event. Two of them were Chris Waddell, winner of 5 Olympic Gold medals, and Lacey Heward, United States Paralympic monoskier, who has gold, silver, and bronze medals, and won two bronze medals in the 2002 Salt Lake Paralympics.
The Utah State Library for the Blind serves residents of Utah and Wyoming, no matter what their age, as long as they qualify. They need to be unable to read regular-sized print. It includes people with blindness, visual impairments, physical impairments that exclude them from being able to read regular-sized print (can’t hold the book, turn the pages, etc.). It also includes people with learning disabilities. Read more about the program on their website: http://blindlibrary.utah.gov.