Brady Hadfield, 9, enjoys water-tubing, four-wheeling and riding the light rail, despite a visual impairment caused by a prenatal stroke. He’s a good listener who will crack up laughing while listening to KFAN personality Dan Cole with his dad.
Ridley Nelson, 13, loves Legos and video games, despite a condition that leaves him just short of legally blind. Ball sports are difficult for him and his brother Felix, who also has the condition. But their mom, Kelly, said she doesn’t limit them.
“They can do just about everything everyone else can do,” she said.
The boys were among the six participants in a golf camp last week at Oak Marsh Golf Course in Oakdale for children who are blind or visually impaired. The kids learned to swing and putt and took a tour of the course via golf cart.
The camp was organized and taught by Angie Ause, a PGA teaching professional and teacher for blind and visually impaired students in St. Paul Public Schools. She paid for the camp herself, including Uber rides for one family.
Children who are blind or have limited vision don’t have access to recreation activities and tend to be more sedentary, Ause said. Yet, “they can do everything that everyone else can,” said Brady’s dad, Nick Hadfield, a teacher for students who are blind or visually impaired. “We just have to adapt how we do it.”
There are 489 people, from newborns to 21-year-olds, in Minnesota who are blind or visually impaired, according to 2016 figures from the Minnesota Department of Education.
That amounts to a few students per school district, however, Hadfield said. A growing number of teachers who work with them are retiring and leaving the profession.
“There’s a high need” for such teachers, he said.
Ause heard about the profession from a student while she was working as a golf pro at Les Bolstad Golf Course in Falcon Heights. She went on a few “ride-alongs” to see what the teachers did and went back to school to obtain a master’s degree.
“Being an advocate for equal opportunities in education is pretty cool to be a part of,” she said.
The golf camp was a way for Ause to combine the two interests. She said about 30 children have participated in the few years she has hosted it.
At camp last week, Auge used sensory cues to explain golf to the kids. She passed around tree branches and a bucket of sand to explain the different obstacles on a golf course. She dropped a ball into a golf cup to help them understand the goal of the game.
“This is one of the best sounds you’ll ever hear,” she said.
The kids practiced putting on the first day of camp, with Ause having them pretend they were sweeping the floor. She had the kids practice with plastic putters and oversized tennis balls at first, before moving onto actual golf clubs and balls.
The next day, the kids learned how to swing and practiced on the driving range. They finished by playing a par-3 hole on the course.
There were some wayward shots and frustrated looks as the kids putted on the first day. Still, they appeared to enjoy themselves. Felix smiled in wonder as a volunteer, Kalay Kotasek, made a midrange putt. Mohamed Mohamud, 12, offered encouraging words after Brady made a short putt.
“They’re such great kids,” said Kotasek, who plays on the golf team at Lake Forest College in Illinois. “They’re so energetic. We always have a good time.”
Mohamed came to the camp with his younger sister Nawal, 9, who works with Ause at her elementary school. Nawal comes to school excited to learn every day, Ause said, despite having limited hearing and sight and a condition that leaves her skin dry and scaly.
“It just makes me so happy to be able to work with her,” she said.
Ause hopes to expand the camp and possibly work with Louie’s Vision, a nonprofit started by a student at Cretin-Derham Hall who is blind. She said she hopes to connect with more parents and teachers around the state.
Both she and Hadfield spoke about wanting to expand recreation opportunities for kids who are blind or visually impaired.
“They all want to do what everyone else is doing,” Hadfield said. “They just have to do it differently.”