Future Reflections          Special Issue: Sports, Fitness, and Blindness

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An Independent Spirit

Editor�s Note: What kind of women do physically active, independent nine-year-old girls grow up to become? Josette Christella Garcia is the vice-president of the Sports and Recreation Division of the National Federation of the Blind. She is also a junior at Chicago State University and hopes to get her Masters Degree in Educational Psychology from Louisiana Tech and become a cane travel instructor.

The newspaper article below recounts some of Christella�s early adventures as an energetic, competitive nine-year-old who had no use for people who felt sorry for her. That was �Then.� The article is followed by a recent interview we conducted to find out about �Now.� We wanted to know what connection there was between the spirited, ambitious little girl she was at age nine, and the person she is today. We begin with the article from 1988:

Nine-Year-Old Won�t Let Blindness Be Handicap
by K. C. Compton

Reprinted from The New Mexican, October 17, 1988.

Christella continues her love of sports into her adult life.Josette [Christella] Garcia learned to ride her bike the old-fashioned way--with brother and dad on either side of her yelling encouragement as she first coasted, pedaled, then took off on her own.

�I couldn�t believe it the first day she rode her bicycle,� said [Christella�s] mom, Virginia Garcia. �I was looking out the kitchen window and first I saw my son Christopher ride by, then right behind him came [Christella], I was flabbergasted.�

Eventually, Virginia thinks, she will get used to her daughter�s harum-scarum feats. Nine-year-old [Christella] has been completely blind since birth, but she has never gotten it through her head that she is what some people call handicapped.

Take the judo tournaments, for instance. She competes with sighted kids her own age and size. And she has four medals, one trophy, and one first-place ribbon to prove how those matches turned out.

�The first time I was in a tournament, the girl I was competing with felt sorry for me,� [Christella] said, with a sly grin. �After I beat her twice in a row, she said she didn�t feel sorry for me anymore.�

[Christella] said she is generally fearless, but she even scares herself sometimes in gymnastics class. She is fine on the low beam, vault, and floor routines--and again, has a load of ribbons and medals to prove it--but the uneven bars are sometimes intimidating.

Asked if this meant she would stop working on the bars, [Christella] just laughed and shook her head.

[Christella�s] only complaint in life, she said, is not that she is blind but that she has so few kids to play with. She and Christopher, eleven, are obviously great friends--in the way only brothers and sisters can be. But she does not have many other playmates.

�The sighted kids feel sorry for her,� her father, Gilbert, said. �And there�s nothing she hates worse.�

Hates, perhaps, because pity seems so foreign to her. Pity and self-pity certainly are not encouraged in her home.

�Sometimes people get mad at us because they think we aren�t sympathetic enough with her,� Gilbert said. �But we tell her, �No, hijita, you have to do it for yourself.� We won�t be around forever to take care of [Christella], so she has to learn to be self-reliant.�

Sometimes, however, [Christella�s] independent spirit rambles a bit too far. For example, one day she went to the flea market with her parents and met a blind man with a Seeing Eye dog. [Christella] was fascinated and when she got home, she decided her own family�s pet would be a dandy guide dog.

The family finally found [Christella] long after dark. Her pants were torn, her face scratched and bloody. Unharmed but chastened, [Christella] vowed she would never leave home alone like that again.

�But I didn�t freak out, Mom.� She told her mother on the way home.

For a while, [Christella] attempted to go to the elementary school near her home. Although the law guarantees that she should be �mainstreamed� into the regular school system, lack of funds on the school�s part meant [Christella] was not getting the education she needed.

Now she attends the New Mexico School for the Visually Impaired in Alamogordo and only comes home to her family on holidays. The Garcia�s are distressed by this arrangement and have decided to try and sell their land--which has been in the Garcia family for generations--so they can move to Colorado Springs, Colorado. Another school for the visually impaired is located there, and the Garcias� say [Christella] can then come home after school like a �normal kid.�

[Christella] wants to sing professionally when she grows up. She plans to start learning to play the piano this year in Alamogordo. Before she left for school this week, however, she begged Christopher to teach her one more skill.

�The skateboard,� he said, grinning with triumph. �She�s doing pretty good, too.�

Seth Lamkin, assistant to the editor, conducted the following interview by telephone on May 24, 2007:

Seth: What sports are you currently active in?

Christella: Well, I am currently active in judo which is my main sport, but recreationally I play goalball as well. I guess those would be the two main sports but if there�s a sport to be played, I�ll pretty much do it!

Seth: Why do you feel that you need the NFB?

Christella and her brother ride on a tandem bicycle.Christella: NFB has been a part of my life since I was about three years old and I believe that it�s part of the reason why my parents are so supportive. Fortunately they became part of the Federation in New Mexico and met people like Dr. Schroeder and saw people who were blind and successful, doing anything that they wanted to do. That taught them that I could do the same. There might be adaptations, but for the most part I was raised just like one of the kids: climbing trees, causing trouble [laughs]. The NFB is like having a big family--no matter if I�m in Chicago, California, or Louisiana. I always know that I have a big family to support me and help me with whatever I want to accomplish.

Seth: What would you say is the most adventurous thing you�ve done as an adult? When you�ve gone outside of your comfort zone?

Christella: When my father passed away--he was a very, very big part of my life--I didn�t really have a direction in my life. I had some friends that were moving to California and they asked me if I wanted to move to California. I�m usually pretty cautious. But three weeks later I moved. You know I always had my belief from the Federation that I could accomplish anything that I wanted, but I was able to prove it. I realized that I could pay my own bills, have my own apartment, cook my own meals, get a job on my own. It was really scary. I wanted to come back home a couple of times, but I was just having too much fun to allow that to happen.
My next adventure that I�m really excited about is going to Brazil this summer.

Seth: Oh wow, tell us a little more about that.

Christella: I was selected to be part of the national team and represent the USABA in the 63 kilo division at the tournament in Sao Paulo, Brazil this summer. I�ve never traveled outside of the country--hopefully I will qualify to participate in the Paralympics. I�ll have to place in the top four to participate. It�s a pretty big event. They also have goalball, powerlifting, and track events as well as judo.

Seth: What are your aspirations for the future?

Christella: When I finally get my degree--being the vice-president of the Sports and Rec Division is gonna be something I�ll always be involved with in some capacity--I want to work for an organization to develop and implement sports programs for people who are visually impaired. I want to teach them that they can do sports and have fun just like their sighted peers.

Seth: Any hope to travel after Brazil?

Christella: Hopefully I�ll be traveling to Beijing to be in the Olympics! But also one of my goals in life is to travel to Australia and pet a kangaroo [laughs].

Seth: Do you have any interest in any sports that you haven�t tried that you�d like to try?

Christella: I would love to be in shape enough to be in a triathlon. I�ve done a little bit of the biking and swimming, but to be in the shape to even do that would be really cool and a lot of fun.

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