Lauren Sims went last across the tightrope 15 feet off the ground.
She let everyone else go first, so she could cheer them on. Deep down, she said, she was nervous to have to navigate Stone Valley’s rope course with a wire the width of a phone cord separating her and the ground.
“I was trying to be strong for other people, but I was really scared,” Sims said. “We knew what we were going to do, because they told us. But I didn’t expect it to be so high.”
The rope course was a part of team and confidence building in the Summer Academy, said David De Notaris, Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services director.
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“We asked that all the kids come here with their canes for the program for three weeks, but this is the one day we told them to leave their canes on the ground,” De Notaris said. “Throughout the program we teach them, we teach them a lot from how to cook to doing laundry. A lot of them are excited to do laundry for the first time. This is all designed to show them if you approach obstacles in life with a positive attitude you can do anything. Now, they’re going across this course and showing each other that if you can do it, I can do it, too.”
Sims, 19, was one of dozens who braved the rope course, conquering her visual impairment and fear of heights at the same time.
She also has a hearing impairment and Chiari malformation, a structural defect in the brain where the cerebellum dips into her spinal cord, which causes imbalance.
“It kind of looks like I’m drunk when I walk,” Sims said. “I have almost no balance, so it felt like I was going to fall at any second.”
Sims sat with friends at the end of the rope course’s platform, relieved to have made it across.
“I can’t believe we actually did it,” Sims said. “I can’t wait to get down and sit down for a while.”
Brian Sintef said he wants to work in carpentry and construction, so the rope course and wall climb the day before helped him prepare for what his career might be like.
“I want to be in carpentry and construction, so I have to be in high places,” Sintef, 18, said. “There’s excitement in learning and doing something that you haven’t done. I was surprised to go up the wall so fast the first time, but they were both hard for me. It’s both visual and feeling it out with your hands and feet. I can see with glasses like 50/60.”
Though some of the young adults made it across the rope course with ease, others were more apprehensive to go across.
As one girl cheered her peers to complete the course, De Notaris noted she had cried earlier and didn’t want to try it.
“That girl was screaming and crying she didn’t know if she could do it,” De Notaris said. “She didn’t want to go up, and now she’s encouraging everyone else. That’s a miracle. I don’t believe in miracles. I rely on them.”
Tarik Williams, a second-year resident assistant in the program and former student, said the participants can apply their tightrope walking experience to life in a figurative sense.
“You can always find a reason not to do something,” Williams said. “I think the hardest thing in life is getting started no matter what it is, but once you get started you can overcome anything. I’ve seen so much growth in them. They’re learning they can overcome anything.”