Visually impaired Veteran Raymond Castillo participates in rifle shooting.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
As part of this year’s Olympic Games in London, a blind South Korean archer broke the world record.
How so – if he can’t see the target?
Ask Raymond Castillo. A legally blind Vietnam era Veteran who is a member of the Visual Impairment Services Team (VIST) program at VA New York Harbor Healthcare System’s New York Campus, Castillo, 55, knows a thing or two about adaptive sports.
After participating in the Summer Adaptive Sports Clinic at the Northport VAMC, Castillo was open to trying different kinds of activities. At Northport, he did tandem biking, tandem kayaking, bowling, goal ball (played by listening to the sound of the ball) and other sports. He then stumbled upon Mission Vision, an adaptive sports program from the US Association of Blind Athletes. The program allowed him and 13 other Veterans to go to Colorado Springs, CO, and try their hand at Olympic sports.
“I thought it was going to be like Northport, but when I got there, I saw it was for athletes,” Castillo noted, while thumbing through the photos from the trip on an accessible laptop designed for those who are visually impaired. “If you are good at something, they encourage you to go for the paralympics.”
He tried everything, even activities that he never would have thought possible. “We had something to do – every day, all day long,” noted the Marine Corps Veteran. “I had never done anything like this before,” he said, noting that with some practice, he got really good at archery. Among the sports were Whitewater rafting down the Arkansas River, a relay race (with a sighted runner running alongside Veteran athletes), archery, shot put, and others. The backdrop to all of these activities? The Rocky Mountains.
In fact, the group even went to the US Olympic training center to try out their skills.
For Castillo, this event bookends a year of positive change in his life.
“When I met Stacy, my whole life changed,” he recalled, noting that he first came to VA in May, 2011 and got into the VIST program run by Coordinator Stacy Pommer.
Castillo was in a car accident in 2009 that changed his vision forever. “There was no hope before. Now I have hope,” he said. “Now I can build confidence and relationships.”
Pommer sent him to a blind rehabilitation program at the West Haven VA (Connecticut) – to help with his vision adjustment. “It’s an important program for building confidence and independence,” Pommer said. “A lot of the time, adjusting to sudden vision loss can be really depressing,” she said.
“Before the accident, I was very active,” Castillo said. “Then I didn’t do anything for a year and a half. I couldn’t catch a ball. I was totally disabled. Now I am doing these things.”
“We figure out ways to adapt sports for all,” noted Pommer, a big cheerleader for adaptive sports. There are also adaptations for all sorts of equipment.
“I used to like photography before I lost my sight and I just started again,” said Castillo, who, with a new camera, took his own photos of the trip to Colorado.