Take it from someone who has heard the word a lot, can’t is one of the most dangerous words in the English language.
Ever since my childhood, a lot of people have told me I can’t do things. A lot of them had good intentions. Hoping to keep me safe physically, or emotionally.
Being legally blind, there are a few things that even I admit I shouldn’t do. Most of you should be thankful that driving is one of those things. I’m not saying I can’t do it. In fact, I have done it. But, I feel I shouldn’t for my, and everyone else’s safety. But like I said, there is quite a bit of stuff I’ve been told I can’t do.
When I was just a kid, I always wondered why I was one of the only kids who had to come in when it was dark. All the others would be outside playing manhunt, flashlight tag and all other kinds of fun games on summer nights. That feeling of being left out for the simple reason of genetics was horrible. Thankfully, my parents were great. I specifically remember my dad telling me that I had an opportunity to do other things that those kids won’t. For example, he taught me to play cribbage on a lot of the nights where other kids were outside. A game that, to this day, I still enjoy. Also, we watched all kinds of things on TV including sports, and even Jeopardy, which has inspired a love of trivia. But that word still hung around. I couldn’t go play with the other kids.
Let’s fast forward to school. I was enrolled in a private school that my brother and I both attended. In the first grade, due to my vision problem, I was having some trouble reading. My “teacher” told my parents that I was “mentally retarded.” She also told my parents that I was “unable to read” and had “no chance” of success in school. Needless to say, I was abruptly removed from that school. I was put into public school and tested. I think anyone reading this will know tha t was not, to use her words, “mentally retarded.” I think those close to me would say that I am quite the opposite. Not only that, I am a teacher and I am a billion times the teacher than that woman.
Let’s get to my real passion in life. Sports. My parents were both athletes. My brother was an athlete. So, naturally, I was going to gravitate towards athletics. My parents were great about letting me try whatever I wanted to. And growing up in a neighborhood full of kids, I had no choice but to try and hang if I was going to enjoy my time. I played soccer, basketball, baseball and all kinds of other sports as a kid. But, as anyone could tell you, my real passion was football. I begged and pleaded with my parents to let me play. Obviously, they were hesitant. My dad played football and knew the injuries that fully sighted people could get. Never mind a blind kid. My mom was much more hesitant, as moms usually are. My freshman year, the Special Education DIrector of the school I attended, who also happened to be the athletic director, finally convinced my parents to let me try. Along with the head coach at the time, and the assistant principal, I played all four years of high school. Even playing varsity my senior year.
Not only that, but the friends I made on the football team also convinced me to wrestle. I jumped right into a bit of shark tank here. I had disadvantage if all things were equal without much vision, but I also was well behind my peers in training. Most of them had wrestled as kids. The only wrestling I knew at the time featured steel chairs and jumping off of turnbuckles. The wrestling head coach, who also was the football coach, was happy to take me in and make any adjustments that I needed to be successful. Don’t misunderstand, I was put through the same rigorous training that everyone else was. I wasn’t treated any differently in the mat room. The only difference was, during matches I had to stay in contact with my opponents and after the meet, I would need a sighted guide to get me to the bus. Thankfully, my friends were happy to oblige. A lot of people told me that it was a good story for me to wrestle and that I wouldn’t win anything. Now, I wasn’t great, but I’m proud to say that they were wrong. I was a starter on a sectional championship team. I got destroyed in my match that meet by an eventual state champion, but the team title meant more to me than any individual success. As a matter of fact, I think I still hold the school record for most consecutive varsity losses without missing a start.
After high school, everyone told me what a great story it was. But those same people told me that was as far as it would go. I couldn’t do anything more athletically. Well, I’m happy to say they were wrong again. I found a sport designed for those who are blind and visually impaired. Beep Baseball gave my athletic drive a new outlet. After 4 years of learning the sport and being on a championship contender’s starting lineup and being an offensive all-star team, I think they may have been wrong again.
When I went off to college, I heard a few people say it was great that I wanted to be a teacher. “But, how can a blind person teach kids?” they would ask. And when I switched my major to Physical Education, even my mom was shocked. I had a few meetings with professors in the PE department about the switch, and some of them shared the same concerns. One even saying that she couldn’t see (haha) how that could work. They had no chance but to accept me into the program, and I went on to graduate and achieve licensure to teach PE in Massachusetts. That same professor told me that she was “dead wrong”with what she said earlier. I give her a lot of credit for saying that.
I started my teaching career at the school I attended as a kid. On my first day, that same assistant principal came to me and asked if I would coach the freshman football team with him. I was a bit nervous at first, but I of course accepted. Those same people who said I couldn’t play, were now saying it was impossible for me to coach. Well, I coached football at the freshman, junior varsity and varsity level for around 5 years. Calling both offensive and defensive plays.
I then asked my former wrestling coach if the team needed any help. He gladly said he’d be happy to have me volunteer as a coach. I did that for 2 years and loved every second.
In between the coaching, I was hired to teach a few PE classes during the day, including the Adapted PE class for those with disabilities. Fitting huh? I loved that job. Those kids did some great things. One spring, I had a supervisor say that she thought it was a “liability” to have me teaching PE. Even though nobody ever got hurt in my class and I was working with some of the most medically fragile students in the school. This was a devastating blow to my confidence. I felt I was doing a great job and the decision to take my classes away didn’t only hurt me emotionally, it almost crushed my fiance and I financially. We struggled for months trying to just stay afloat.
During this time, I went to work as an aide to those Special Ed students who I taught in PE. As poor as I was, these were some of the best days of my work life. The great people and students I worked with were all incredible. A lot of those students had been told the same things I had as a kid. Some were told they’d never achieve a high school diploma or go to college or even hold a job. Those kids worked harder everyday just to get to class than I ever did. We worked for years to get these kids to pass the MCAS tests so they could get their diplomas. All of the hard work paid off, when several of them were able to pass and walk in their graduations. One even receiving an award at graduation for all of his hard work. ANother student is currently enrolled in college, while the others all hold full time jobs.
I know those kids were being motivated by the people telling them that they couldn’t do it just like I was. The feeling of those kids passing the tests and graduating was way better than any success I’ve had.
That brings us to today. I moved on from my alma mater and I am now a PE teacher at a private school. I won’t say I’m rich, but we do ok. I’m slated to get married in May and I plan to continue my success in Beep Baseball if Covid-19 allows it.
I write this blog for those who are told they can’t. Even for those who tell themselves that they can’t. That word can destroy any dream or aspiration you may have. I’ll leave you with this, there is only one person who can definitively tell you that you can’t do something, and that is you. If you think you can do something, all the people in the world can tell you otherwise, but only you know for a fact that they’re wrong.