Playing it forward
We all have limitations. The question is how much will they define us?
The answer for Ian Kloehn — not at all.
Kloehn, a junior studying biomedical sciences in the College of Health Sciences, plans to go to medical school and become a pediatric oncologist. He also has optic nerve atrophy. He’s legally blind. “I can see everything,” Kloehn says. “It’s just blurry.”
His vision for helping others is anything but.
This summer Kloehn partnered with Milwaukee nonprofit Vision Forward to deliver a two-day sports camp for visually impaired youth. Held at Marquette in July, it drew students from fourth grade through high school.
Kloehn networked with Vision Forward and other Wisconsin organizations for the visually impaired to find campers. He leaned on friends and sports contacts to recruit coaches and helpers, all unpaid volunteers.
A gifted athlete who played high school select and varsity soccer, Kloehn was one of 11 U.S. students chosen to attend the 2009 Paralympic Games. He created Vision Forward Sports Camp to share his love of sports with kids who might otherwise feel sidelined. “I never realized I had a visual impairment when I played sports,” he says. “I felt like I could do everything other people could.”
For Kloehn that was a feeling worth sharing with the nine visually impaired students who attended his camp, including some with total blindness.
They swam; did jiu jitsu, yoga and cardio; and played “goalball,” a rehabilitative game developed for World War II veterans.
What the camp lacked in numbers it made up for in its impact on participants. In post-camp evaluations, one camper wrote about showing his mother what he could do: “I wanted her to gain confidence in me.” Another wrote that he “learned that I can be independent and don’t need help.”
The mother of a sixth-grader wrote: “It was important for him to see other kids are like him, since he often feels like the only one with vision loss.”
“Everyone had a blast,” Kloehn says. “The kids enjoyed it. The parents were very happy. Even the coaches I brought in for different sports said it was a life-changing experience.”
Kloehn is already planning a summer 2016 session. — JS