Athlete Spotlight: Paul Tandy

By Lauren Lieberman. 

Meeting Paul in Alaska: Only 360 Days

Paul was nine years old in 2005 when I met him at Camp Abilities in Wasilla, Alaska, a small town an hour north of Anchorage. He was a wiry and energetic young man who was blind.  Paul had never been to camp. He was thrilled to sleep in a cabin on a lake only an hour from his home. Together with his new friends from camp, he was exposed to rare mating grebes and the occasional moose.  

Paul wasn’t the only newbie. Alaska was our first expansion after the original 1996 Camp Abilities in Brockport, NY so this was the first time many of our campers were introduced to sports and their own abilities.

While I knew the sun went down late in our 49th state, I was surprised to see sunshine at 11PM. There were many nights we were having so much fun, we forgot to send the kids to bed until after 10. After all, who wants to go to bed when it’s still light outside?

As with all Camp Abilities, the counselors worked one-on-one with each camper, pushing them farther and farther toward their potential. Paul loved every activity and every challenge. He was even excited to jump into the 56-degree lake water for his evening activity. He became a runner and a biker. He played goalball and beep baseball. He shot an arrow and once at home he fell in love with wrestling.

His confidence and love of wrestling parlayed into a place on his high school wrestling team. He took his camp experience back into the world as an example to the sighted community of the potential of a person who is blind. He showed his community that being blind is not a disability but just a different ability.

Paul is front row, far right.

Six Years Later

I returned to Camp Abilities Alaska six years later to find a 15-year-old Paul still learning and challenging himself. He had blossomed from a small boy to a mature leader with lifelong camp friends. He was captain of his goalball team. He organized our talent show, led our sing-a-longs and played his guitar.

He became friends with Terry Kelly, a musician, and a blind Paralympian from Canada. Together they played Terry’s song The Power of the Dream, which has since become our camp anthem.

The last morning of camp was a bittersweet time with tears flowing and promises to stay in touch. After our Awards Ceremony ended at noon, the parents started taking their children home. After all the other kids were gone, we proceeded to clean up with Paul helping us fold tables and pack boxes. When we were finished, I turned to Paul and said “Paul, where are your parents?”

Paul unabashedly confessed, “I told them not to come until 5PM. I want to spend every minute here I can.”

Standing and facing me with tears in his eyes, he grabbed my shoulders and added, “Lauren, thank you so much for starting this camp. I’ve never had so many good friends. I love every minute of it: the sports, the music, everything.” 

As if those words weren’t special enough, he leaned forward and looked directly and intently into my eyes. “I feel like I am myself here and only here. I don’t know what I’d do without it.” He took a deep breath …

 “Lauren, only 360 days before I can come back!”

 These words from Paul shook my core….

Paul had to wait 360 days to be himself again. To be included 100% of the time. To feel like he belongs. I left Alaska determined to take Camp Abilities around the United States and around the world. I left Alaska determined to show as many children as possible their own potential in sports and in their world.

 At every camp, I hear Paul whispering …

 “I am myself here and only here. … Only 360 days until I can come back.”

~Lauren Lieberman

 Next Week: Where Is Paul Today?


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