AlliedNews.com - Grove City, Pennsylvania

April 2, 2014

Sports group serves blind, visually impaired

Register now for April 12 clinic at SRU

By Monica Pryts/Staff Writer
Allied News

SLIPPERY ROCK — A non-profit organization based at Slippery Rock University that serves blind and visually-impaired children is gearing up for its spring sports clinic, among other events and fundraisers that keep participants and organizers busy year-round.

"It's evolving into 'let's get the community involved,'" said Dustin Vargo, 19, of Munhall, Pa., who's been with VIP Sports since he was in grade school, when it was called Sports Vision.

Vargo was born with congenital cataracts and now has 20/20 vision with glasses after having six or seven eye surgeries.

He spoke on Friday about the upcoming clinic and how the program has helped him. He was joined in SRU's East Gym by another former participant, Calahan Young, and Lauren Impey, the project coordinator for VIP Sports and a graduate of SRU's Adapted Physical Activity program.

VIP Sports has been around for about eight years and is offered through the Adapted Physical Activity program. It's open to any blind or visually-impaired kids ages 5 to 18, who are called "athletes," and siblings are always welcome to attend the various events, which include ski trips, summer camp and white-water rafting, Impey said.

"It's good insight for them, too," she said, adding the siblings can wear "blind goggles" while skiing, for example, to give them an idea of what their brothers and sisters go through.

The spring sports clinic is set for noon April 12 in the East Gym and events include track and field, kickball, beep baseball, tandem bike riding, judo, goalball, dance and swimming, weather permitting.

The clinic is being run by the graduate students in the Adapted Physical Activity program, and the undergraduate students will be volunteering, Impey said.

There is a registration fee, but arrangements can be made for families who need help covering the costs, Impey said.

"We don't ever turn anyone away," she said, the "we" being Wendy Fagan, the program director; volunteers and SRU students also play a huge role in keeping VIP Sports running.

Young, 19, of Irwin, Pa., who along with Vargo now volunteers his time with VIP Sports, was born with retinitis pigmentosa. He's considered legally blind because he has no peripheral vision, but being involved with VIP Sports has helped build up his confidence, and he's studying therapeutic recreation at SRU, where he's a freshman.

"I'm hoping that's what I want to do," Young said of earning his degree and certification and wanting to help kids.

Vargo is an emergency medical technician in Jefferson Hills and is going to paramedic school, and he credits VIP Sports with helping him develop better social skills, which he can apply to his line of work.

"It's always helping people," he said of the kind of career he's always wanted.

Vargo also found out he's pretty good at goalball, a paralympic sport that's unique to those who are blind and visually-impaired. It's similar to soccer and involves the passing of a rubber ball containing bells.

Vargo has been named most valuable player twice at the national goalball games.

"It introduces you to a lot of stuff," Impey said of VIP Sports, which also helps the athletes make friends, be more physically active and improve their overall quality of life.

When they're not busy planning activities and events, they're putting together fundraisers since the organization relies largely on donations.

"We have to start from scratch every single year," Impey said.

VIP Sports is hosting an all-you-can-eat "blind spaghetti dinner" for $6 from 5 to 8 p.m. April 2 at the Slippery Rock Township building, 155 Branchton Road, where diners will have the option of being blindfolded to experience what it's like to be visually impaired.

Detailed information about VIP Sports will be on display at the dinner.

"You have to spend so much time fundraising," Impey said. "If every student on campus was to donate $1, that would be $8,000."

Impey herself is a great example of how one person can make a difference. She moved to the area in 2012 from England to play for SRU's women's soccer team and was enrolled in the Adapted Physical Activity program.

In 2013, she coached the goalball team and accompanied them to Canada, organized the spring sports clinic and helped with the VIP Sports summer camp.

"It was the best experience of my life," she said.

SRU itself has been wonderful for lending its facilities, graduate students and the resources from the Adapted Physical Activity program to support VIP Sports, she said.

"It's hitting all different people," Impey said of those who are involved.

Registration for the spring sports clinic on April 12 is $20 or $25 (depending on whether participants order a long- or short-sleeved shirt) and includes snacks and a T-shirt. Deadline is April 4 and a fall clinic is in the works.

Information and registration: www.rockalumnicafe.com/VIPSports

VIP Sports is also raising money for the April 13 Achilles Opportunity 1 Mile Family Fun Run, 5K and 10K Race being held at the North Park JC Stone Field, Pittsburgh.

Seven SRU and Grove City High School students will be competing in the races with VIP Sports athletes to raise money for this summer's VIP Sports camp, which runs June 9 through 13 at SRU.

The goal is to raise $3,500 to help buy new adaptive equipment for camp, help athletes with financial hardships attend camp, and pay for a bus to take athletes to a Pittsburgh Pirates game.

To donate, visit www.rockalumnicafe.com/VIPSports

For more information about VIP Sports, contact Lauren Impey at lxi1003@sru.edu or 724-234-5296, Wendy Fagan at wendy.fagan@sru.edu or 724-738-2791, or visit www.sru.edu/academics/colleges/education/pe/apa/Pages/VIPSports.aspx

Published March 26, 2014, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.