What, Are You Blind? Actually – Yes!
By Shlomo Maital
A pole vaulter sprints down the runway and misses the slot that anchors her pole prior to the vault.
What, are you blind? says a track official curtly.
Yes, the pole vaulter answers. I am.
This never happened. But it could have. Blindness seems liks an insurmountable obstacle to sprinting down a runway, planting a pole in a precise spot, vaulting over a bar 12 to 15 feet high while turning your body 180 degrees with precise timing.
Charlotte Brown and Aria Ottmueller are several visually impaired – virtually blind. Yet Brown has pole vaulted 11’ 6” and hopes to break 12 feet soon. She is a sophomore in high school, 15 years old. She and Ann Ottmueller, who is 17, will compete in their state (Texas) track and field meets in the pole vault.
There is no pole vault competition for the blind, even in the Paralympics. But today athletes like Ottmueller and Brown are competing in mainstream events against able-bodied peers. How do they do it? According to Jere Longman, writing in the Global New York Times (May 11-12, p. 13), “unable to rely on sight for vaulting, they have developed a mathematical compensation, counting their strides toward liftoff and trusting that the repetition of training will carry them safely over the bar.”
“You can’t be afraid of what you can’t see,” Ottmueller said. “[In the air], for a few seconds, nothing is wrong in the world, and nothing else matters,” Brown said.
Each of us builds our own obstacles, our own barriers, our own reasons why we cannot do something, and why we fail when we try. These self-created obstacles are far higher, heavier and thicker than any the world itself creates. From two blind pole vaulters, we learn that anything is possible, if you want it enough and if you believe enough.