July 9, 2015

Truly Savage: Brave Team of Blind Racers Inspire Us All

A group of wet, muddy, tired athletes triumphantly entered the festival area after completing Savage Race Maryland.

Every staff member began cheering. A couple of us may have had tears in our eyes.

It didn’t matter that this group of brave athletes finished after many others had already picked up and gone home. The smiles on their faces said it all – they did it!

Ben, CJ, Daron, Devonte, Nasim, Shawn, and Taiye completed miles of rugged terrain and dozens of challenging obstacles… that they couldn’t even see.

The Maryland School for the Blind prepares their students to be successful, independent, and well-rounded contributing members of their communities. They encourage their students to try new things and expand their horizons. And they inspire them to be BRAVE.

“Our athletes have never done anything like a Savage Race before and had no idea what to expect,” said Matthew Mescall, Physical Education & Health Teacher. “The athletes were excited and a little nervous. Even with that, they put their trust in the coaches and the staff of the Savage event.”

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The athletic program at the Maryland School for the Blind prepares students to compete in swim, wrestling, cheerleading, track & field, and a blind-specific sport called goalball. Each sport is modified to accommodate visual impairments, but the modifications don’t alter the sport – so these athletes can still compete against local public schools.

Even though these student athletes are used to training and competing, their coaches had to come up with innovative ways to explain and simulate what to expect when it came to training for Savage Race.

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“Most of our students haven’t heard of a race that drags you through mud, and they couldn’t imagine what the obstacles would look like or how challenging they can actually be,” said Matthew.

They ran through parking lots and fields to condition themselves. They practiced guided running and leaping at the voice command of their coaches. They set up obstacle courses in their gym using hurdles and other equipment. They even practiced starting in a large group so that the athletes wouldn’t be overwhelmed or trip over each other.

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Relationships were strengthened. Trust was built. The athletes and coaches were prepared.

The natural obstacles, like the uneven ground, steep slippery slopes, low-hanging tree branches, and unexpected changes in terrain proved to be quite challenging. Matthew remembers, “We had a few good laughs because we made it through one of the tougher obstacles with little trouble, but then tripped over a rock as we celebrated our success.”

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Davy Jones’ Locker was one of the toughest obstacles for the athletes to conquer. They couldn’t really understand just how tall it was or how far they would have to fall before reaching the water. One athlete didn’t understand that there was a large pool of water at the bottom, and thought that he had to accurately jump into a very small landing zone, but he jumped anyway. He didn’t express his fears to his coaches until after successfully completing the obstacle. The trust he put in his coaches to keep him safe was incredible.

With a relentless spirit to achieve and take on the everyday challenges of living with impaired vision, these athletes will be forever remembered by Savage Race as truly remarkable.

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“Being part of such a big event that was not limited to athletes with disabilities put their confidence at a whole different level,” said Matthew. “This is truly an opportunity to see that they can participate in an event that is open to everyone, and discriminates against no one. This is a life lesson they will carry with them forever.”

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Watch this video for even more inspiration from the Maryland School for the Blind “Savage Bees”: