The Braille Monitor                                                                                               January, 2004

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For the Thrill of It

by Lohr McKinstry

From the Editor: The following news story first appeared in the February 8, 2003, edition of the Press Republican, in Plattsburgh, New York. Some of the details about Braille classroom equipment are garbled, but the spirit of this active, normal boy shines through in the reporter's words. In the spirit of winter fun, here is the story:

Blaise Bryant doesn't see the bobsled run when he hurtles down it on his small sled. Some people might close their eyes out of fear as they plunge along at forty miles an hour on a steel sled down a narrow, ice covered track, but Blaise doesn't have that luxury.

Blind since birth, the eleven-year-old Moriah Elementary School student steers the bobsled by instinct. He counts turns, each of which has a name, and knows just when to turn, when to lean, and how high to go on the icy sides to find that perfect racing line. "I have the track mapped in my head," he said. "I can tell where the turns are. We start at 'Shady,' which is a wicked big turn. I can just feel it in my body."

He must be doing something right. Blaise and his sister Joy won the gold medal in bobsledding for the eight to twelve years age class at the 2000 Empire State Games in Lake Placid. In the Pee Wee Bobsled Championships last year, they won the bronze medal for best time and the award for most consistent sledding. This year they took a silver medal for best time.

Joy is twelve years old. She and Blaise switch off on driver and brakeman duties on the pee wee sled, which is about one quarter the size of a regular bobsled.

"She's usually my teammate," Blaise said. "I do fight with her, though."

Piloting a little sled down a long track runs in the Bryant family. Blaise's father, Daniel, was a skeleton racer for fifteen years and was part of the World Cup team. His mother is Marla Rodriguez of Port Henry.

"My father talked about it; that's how I got interested," Blaise said.

"His dad was a skeleton team captain right up to when it became an Olympic sport," said Moriah Elementary Principal William Larrow. "Blaise takes after him."

Blaise started bobsledding three years ago. "It was awesome," he said. "My classmates thought it was awesome too."

It's not his only interest. His favorite subjects in school are spelling and geography. In fact he just won the school championship in the National Geographic Magazine Geography Bee at Moriah.

"The [final] question was: the currencies of Mexico and Argentina? I said peso. When they told me I'd won, I couldn't talk for thirty seconds."

For his win he received a medal, a cash award, and a certificate.

Blaise is in fifth grade at Moriah, and he's usually well prepared for his schoolwork, said his teacher, Gail Baker.

"He's lots of fun," she said. "He listens so carefully that he finds humor in things other kids miss."

Blaise has an aide, Lynn Anderson, who works with him. "He has a Brailler in class, and he types his answers," Baker said. The Perkins Brailler is a typewriter like device that can translate the raised dot system of Braille into written English. Blaise also has a set of Braille textbooks, and Anderson translates into Braille for him.

"He's a great little guy," Larrow said. "He's very pleasant. We enjoy having him at Moriah."

One of Blaise's other pursuits is pee wee football; he has played center for three years.

"The coaches and the other players tell me where to go. I just kind of feel my way through."

The coaches line him up in the right direction, Larrow said. "He knows where to go. He does it." Blaise has excellent orientation and mobility, Larrow said. "He can travel the community on his own. He functions very well in the school. He gets around."

When Blaise gets out of school, he's not sure what career he wants to follow. It might be teaching, but it's hard to tell if he's serious when he smiles and says, "I think about doing a bunch of stuff. But maybe I'll be a teacher. A wacky teacher. The teachers here are nice and wacky."

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