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Sarasota Thursday, Jun. 3, 2010 7 years ago

Youths to lead visually impaired on expedition

by: Loren Mayo Black Tie Editor

Christian Owen had no idea where he was. Blindfolded, he hiked through the Colorado snow, clinging to the arm of the girl leading him carefully up and down the hilly territory.

Owen, a senior, and Kelton LeBaron, a junior, both cadets at Sarasota Military Academy, were selected as two of 10 youths and five team leaders in the U.S. to be a part of the 2010 Leading the Way exploration team. The program pairs visually impaired and sighted high school students on a two-week educational adventure through the Grand Canyon.

Two weeks ago, Owen and LeBaron flew to Estes Park, Colo., for a team-building retreat to complete a variety of activities, such as blindfolded obstacle courses, that would help prepare them for their July expedition.

“I met a visually impaired kid from Panama City who has cerebral palsy, epilepsy and is losing his vision, and he’s the funniest kid I’ve ever met,” LeBaron said. “Just being with him made me realize what he goes through on a daily basis, and it’s tough. It makes you think about the temporary problems in your life, but these kids have to deal with it for their whole life.”

The students first learned about the program through fundraising activities for Foundation Fighting Blindness. Owen’s 12-year-old brother, Nico, suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, a rare retinal degenerative disease that is gradually robbing him of his vision.

The group will spend five days at the top of the Grand Canyon, eight days rafting through rapids and camp out on the beaches at night.

“The last few days we hike out and we’re doing rock climbing,” LeBaron said. “I don’t really know how we’re going to do that — I can barely lead myself doing that.”

Both students were responsible for raising $1,800 each to participate in the program, which required them to write an extensive essay, submit their grades and complete a questionnaire on life experiences and their camping background.

“This will be a life-changing experience,” Owen said. “People go to the Grand Canyon to see the views, but instead of seeing the views and sights, they get to see it in a different way. I have to say, though, they’re pretty accurate with snowballs. I got nailed in the face a couple times — they’re a lot better than me.”

Contact Loren Mayo at [email protected].

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