Braille Monitor                                              May 2014

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Paddles Up!

by Kristen Jocums

From the Editor: Kristen Jocums has been a member of the National Federation of the Blind for more than twenty years. A former winner of a national scholarship, she has served in leadership in each of the affiliates where she has lived. Most recently, she has served as Fountain City Chapter president in Columbus, Georgia, and as a board member of the NFBGA. She is now living in Corvallis, Oregon. Here is her report on a recent chapter activity in Columbus:
Listen to the water lapping against the side of the boat. Hear the far off sounds of people on shore. Check your partner in the seat next to you—all is well. In unison your entire team lets out a battle cry—a unique, low-toned “hhhwhuh” made by forcing air and noise past your lungs in one solid breath. And then comes the call for action—“Paddles up!”

You hold the paddle poised over the water; Your heart beats. Your muscles are taut with excitement. Bang! The starting gun fires and you are off—paddling upstream in a fast-moving river on a sultry, sunny day in Georgia.

“OMG, this is awesome,” yells Maria Vasillava, a mentee in the NFBGA’s GEMS mentoring program. On this bright, sunny day at the end of May, Maria’s one of a twenty-two-member team called the Midnight Dragons. What on earth is a Midnight Dragon? It’s the fiery Dragon Boat team that recently paddled the Chattahoochee River in Columbus, Georgia, of course. You haven’t heard of us yet? Well, listen up because we are on the move.

On Saturday, May 25, 2013, a team made up primarily of blind individuals joined thirty-one other dragon boat teams in a race on the historic Chattahoochee River. As part of the opening of Columbus, Georgia, and Phenix City, Alabama’s whitewater rafting program, a race was held to benefit Children’s Miracle Network. With thirty-two participating teams and over two thousand people in attendance, the Fountain City Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia spearheaded an effort to combine charitable contributions with a can-do attitude. “And that we did—taking first place in our division,” beamed Mary Huie, incoming chapter president.

Dragon boating is an ancient Chinese tradition and is a competitive sport around the world. It requires twenty-two people per boat–one drummer, one steerperson, and twenty paddlers. The trick is to paddle in unison so that the boat cuts through the water quickly.

Made up of mostly blind and visually impaired people, the Midnight Dragons team participated in three heats, ending its final heat in victory with a time of three minutes, two seconds in the 350 meter course. “This was such an awesome experience,” said Mary Huie. “We pulled together a team from every corner of the state of Georgia—Albany, Atlanta, Columbus, Macon, and Valdosta. Amazing!”

The team was made up of several consumer groups, as well as people who were interested in blindness issues. “Our team was the coolest—we had a fourteen-year-old girl, a local probate court judge, and this year’s Miss Columbus State University on our team. Of course, our best and brightest from our own chapter and affiliate made up the core group!”

Sponsored by Country’s Barbecue in Columbus and Hanrahan Freitag Family Law in Atlanta, the team paddled in three heats. The time from the first two heats determined in which division the team placed. The third heat was the championship round for each division. “Of course we won,” said Joe McNeil, former Army Ranger and president of the Georgia Blinded Veterans’ Association. “We had the power and the brains!”

Country’s is a local restaurant that sponsors many sporting events throughout the year. The events are designed both to benefit the blind financially and to provide opportunity for blind people in sports. Country’s hosts the Midnight Express, a 5K run held at midnight annually on the third Saturday night in August. The race raises funds for scholarships and grants for local blind and visually impaired people and programs. Country’s also sponsors the Midnight Stars, a beep ball team that will be participating in the World Series of Beep Ball (baseball for the blind) to be held in Columbus during the month of July.

Hanrahan Freitag Family Law, based in Atlanta, is a progressive, boutique law firm that utilizes outgoing Fountain City Chapter President Kristen Jocums’s parent consulting services to support its clients. “We didn’t hesitate to support the Midnight Dragons. We know blind people can walk the walk when they paddle the boat and do everything else,” said Monica Hanrahan Frietag, the firm’s founding member.

So look out next year, Columbus, Georgia! The Midnight Dragons will be ready when we hear “Paddles up!”

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