Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pushing the envelope does not always go well

Nine years ago a girl drowned in a Minneapolis lake.

That is a sorrowful story that is told many times in many places every year. This particular tragedy, however, had a twist ...

Michigan girl drowns in Minneapolis lake 7/19/2003

 ... A 7-year-old blind girl from Michigan drowned Friday night in Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis while she was swimming with fellow blind children. The girl was with a group of about a dozen visually impaired children from Blind Inc. in Minneapolis. They were off the north beach when lifeguards doing a safety check noticed her missing ...

She was pushing the envelope, doing something many blind people don't do. Sighted kids drown in lakes too, but her risk was above average.

Maybe her parents beat themselves up. Maybe some people thought they were careless parents. I don't know the details, but from my distance I wanted to say to them - forgive yourself. Disability means a full life is often riskier than average -- but all life is risky. None of us get out of this alive. Most us don't want to live in a padded room for as long as possible, we want the best life we can have. We take risks.

So today I took a risk. Nobody died, nobody was even hurt -- but it could have been worse. Seems only fair for me to share a story of an experiment that went off the rails a bit.

It began with a mountain bike outing to the new and superb Lebanon Hills trails. All three did well on the skills section; #1(ADHD, autism, anxiety, low IQ)  bopped through the intermediate stuff without blinking, and #2 (Asperger) was right behind 'em. So we set off on the green trail. #3 (neurotypical) was working through a bit of trail anxiety, so we fell behind the guys. 

So they got bored, and took off on the blue trail. Otherwise known as "the trail of tears", though I didn't learn that name until later.

#1 called to tell me he'd gone off, but I didn't know the trails that well and assumed he couldn't get that far. (I had scanned the trail map, but didn't notice the long, long blue trail on the section I'd studied). Back at the trailhead a cyclicst overheard me talking about the blue trail with #1, and, being a wise stranger, she butted into "my business" (joking there, I was grateful) and clued me in. Meanwhile #1 was getting anxious and agitated and had split from #2, and #2 had run out of mobile minutes while I was pinned down in the parking lot with #3. 

It looked like we were running out of options, but before I could plan the 911 call my helper called in her husband and his friend and they took off down the blue trail at full-rescue velocity. Got to the boys just as an increasingly agitated #1 was going to split for a roadway he could see in the distance. They were all back about twenty minutes later.

So, in the end, pushing the envelope turned out ok. The boys learned some valuable lessons about being lost like "stay together, don't split up" and "stop and stay on the trail" and "wait for Dad" and "if you're lost, choose a trustworthy looking stranger and ask for help" [1]. I learned that I should give #2 son the "tracer phone" [2] on mountain bike trips, and that I should have printed, labeled and distributed maps the night before the trip.

Next time we push the envelope, I hope we'll have a larger margin of error. Meanwhile, thank you Greater Mankata Multisport Club heroes!

[1] Yes, this sounds odd in the world of 'don't talk to strangers'. Surprise -- the risk of approaching a stranger for help is extremely low. The risks are when strangers approach unsolicited, especially in non-emergent situations.
[2] We have one kid phone with a data plan that can be a locator.

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