Goalball helps Rockwall girl with visual impairment prepare for future

Kristie Smith

ROCKWALL (December 26, 2013) Helen Keller once said, “I would rather walk with friends in the dark, than alone in the light.” Although a huge fan of Helen Keller, I had never heard this quote until I met an eighth grader from Williams Middle  School. She was wearing a pink blindfold, playing goalball.

Goalball was originally created in 1946 to help rehabilitate visually impaired World War II veterans. Now goalball is recognized as a genuine sport for the blind and partially sighted. Participants compete in teams of three, rolling a ball that is embedded with bells. Participants and spectators must remain quiet, as players use the sound of the bells to judge the position and movement of the ball.

Since Kristen Miller is not noticeably visually impaired, I wondered why she was playing. She was down in a defense position as her coach, Shawn Daugherty, demonstrated new strategies. Kristen stood up and walked toward her self-decorated cane.

Kristen Miller

I introduced myself and began to ask Kristen questions. She was self-assured and wise beyond her 14 years. She explained that she has a deteriorating eye condition called Rod Cone Dystrophy. She is beginning to learn Braille, as well as other helpful strategies for the blind. Kristen’s teacher, Nancy Hinkley, told me that Kristen is a great student and one whose story should be told.

Kristen is especially happy playing goalball with her best friend Libby, Coach Daugherty’s daughter. But the joyful look leaves her face when the subject of school replaces goalball.

“The kids at school do not really understand my disability,” Kristen said. “They think that I am not friendly and do not realize I am gradually losing my vision.”

When the subject changes back to goalball she smiles and says, “Libby is my best friend as well as my teammate and inspiration. Even though Libby is totally blind, she never gives up. I want to be just like Libby.”

I asked Kristen’s mother, Betty Fleming, what makes her most proud of her daughter. Her face lit up. “I am most proud of her attitude and I love that she is now able to compete in a sport,” she said.

By Kristie Smith, a teacher for the blind and visually impaired. Kristie is the author of a series of novels about a blind girl detective, and has written more than 15 activity books for children with special needs.