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Mountain adventure helps visually impaired teen see possibilities

  • Published
  • By Capt. Cathleen Snow
  • 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs
Tech. Sgt. Francine Torres doesn't think twice about her two-hour daily commute to work each way.

In fact, the Air Force Reservist and mother of three chooses to live 100 miles away from her job so her visually impaired 17-year-old daughter, Jasmyn Polite, can attend the Florida's School for the Blind and Deaf in St. Augustine, Fla.

"I just do it; I love her," said the knowledge operations manager who is employed here as an air reserve technician, a dual-hatted civilian and military service member with the 920th Rescue Wing's Force Support Squadron.

"It's never really been that difficult for me. I expect the same things from her that I expect from my sons," said Torres. Her sons, ages 14 and 16, have no physical disabilities.

It was through a co-worker, Master Sgt. Marian Smith, 920th career advisor that Torres learned about the military-sponsored White Mountain Adventure Camp for Military Teens with Physical Disabilities, a program that would change her daughter's life.

Leaving Florida and their sunshine-state behind last weekend for New Hampshire's wintry 30-degree temperatures and snow was an adventure in of itself, as they rarely travel far from home.

Bundled in winter garb, the pair soon found themselves on sleds, skis and ice skates enjoying each other and the White Mountain adventure as advertised, to the fullest.

"We tried a lot of things we normally wouldn't do," said Torres. Dog sledding, snow tubing, mountain roller coasting, ice skating and sit-down ice skating filled their activity calendar during the long weekend. "I did everything but ice skating," said Torres.

At first her daughter hesitated to try it too, but after a few wobbly steps, two instructors swooped in and held her up as they circled around a frozen lake. "She learned she didn't like it, but now you know, at least you tried it," said Torres.

Torres said her daughter thought skiing was for "crazy people" until she tried it herself and found out she really liked it. Ski instructors held a training pole across the slope while the kids held on and skied. Jasmyn even boarded a moving ski lift inclining the mountain with the help of the camp's therapeutic recreation specialist, and modified ski-lift chairs.

"They were flying down the mountain," said Torres. "It was an awesome program and we had a lot of fun."

They had so much fun that her daughter didn't want to leave.

"The counselors were so great!" said Torres. She said they made sure the more severely handicapped kids did everything the other kids did too. They even pulled some of the kids on sleds if they couldn't hike the mountain-trail.

While Jasmyn liked the snow tubing best, Torres was fondest of the dog-sledding adventure because of the interaction with the huskies.

But above all, it was the interaction with her daughter that topped her list.

Her daughter is already looking forward to attending next year's camp. In the meantime, she and the other kids friended each other on Facebook, a way for them to enrich their newly made friendships, one of the camp's goals.

Torres said she's seen a change in her daughter. "It raised her confidence level and sense of adventure--helped her see that she can try things that she's afraid of." Torres highly recommends the camp to others.

She also felt that even though it was the first year running the camp that, "it was really well organized, but only a dozen kids attended," said Torres who wants others to have the same positive experiences.

The program consists of four camps at the Appalachian Mountain Club's Highland Center in Bretton Woods, N.H., and is open to military teens ages 14-18 nationwide.

The goal: to enjoy classic winter sports and activities as they build friendships with other military teens.

Funding for Military Teen Adventure Camps has been made available through a partnership between the Department of Defense, Office of Military Community & Family Policy and the United States Department of Agriculture/National Institute of Food & Agriculture.

Altogether there were four camps to include:

1) White Mountain Adventure Camp for Military Teens with Physical Disabilities- Jan. 6-9
2) White Mountain Adventure Camp for Military with Developmental or Cognitive Disabilities- Jan. 20-23
3) White Mountain Adventure Camp for Military Teens without Disabilities- Feb. 19-22 and Feb. 26-29

Click here for additional details and applications:

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