Western Pennsylvania School for the Blind blazes a new trail of its own
Dom Cole, 14, is assisted by physical therapists Sharon Hoffner, left, and Laura Dobrich as he wins his race.
Tamihya Goggin-Sapps, 8, walks in a parade on the new urban mobility trail Wednesday at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children. In addition to the parade, races were held for the children on a portion of the trail. Before the trail was built, students had to be taken on actual streets to learn how to cross a road and listen for a traffic signal.
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Four-year-old Brodie Zeigler brought his best form to the foot race he entered Wednesday morning and used it to nudge out two competitors to capture the gold medal.
Today, he will have that medal presented to him officially in front of Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and other dignitaries who are expected to gather at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children in Oakland, where Brodie is a student. The gathering is to dedicate the new urban trail constructed on the front lawn of the school and is part of the school's 125th anniversary.
The trail is designed for both recreational and training purposes, and it was broken in by about 50 of the school's 270 students earlier this week when they participated in several heats of racing until the nine finalists made their final "gold medal" runs Wednesday.
Brodie, who uses a cane, took first place in his division, and silver and bronze medals were awarded for the second- and third-place finishers. It was the same for the other two divisions -- students who use walkers and students who use wheelchairs.
Each of the gold medalists got their handprints set in cement plaques that will be hung along one of the walls of the trail.
Students at the school range in age from 3-21. All are legally blind, although some have limited vision, and many have multiple disabilities and are medically fragile.
The trail provides a safe place to conduct mobility training for the students because it includes a variety of surfaces, including cobblestones, cement and a simulated crosswalk with an audible stop light. Each curb cut and ramp is covered with a non-slip surface that has raised bumps similar to what is used on sidewalk curb cuts and wheelchair ramps on public streets so that students can feel the difference in the terrain and note that it indicates they are approaching a street.
Before the trail was constructed, mobility trainers took students to actual streets for training.
"It's a much more controlled environment to use before taking them out in the real environment," said Todd Reeves, executive director and superintendent.
The trail cost about $700,000 to construct and was completed during the summer. Of the total, $500,000 came from foundations and other donations, and $200,000 came from the school's discretionary fund.
For educational purposes, the trail holds sculptures with three dimensional parts that move and feature different textures and shapes.
A gazebo large enough to serve as an outdoor classroom and sound posts are along the trail, which provide different nature noises when a card is inserted. A water fountain is situated low enough for students in wheelchairs to place their hands in the waterfall and feel the sculptures the water flows around.
For fun, the trail includes a large handicapped-accessible swing set, with swings that accommodate students with varying disabilities, including a glider that can hold a wheelchair.
The scene was all fun Wednesday when a group of students and staff sat on the lawn beside the trail and watched the school's runners compete.
They paraded into the official Olympic anthem and then lined up for their races. Staff members held cardboard signs of encouragement and cheered.
In the end, all nine racers won either a gold, silver or bronze medal.
"I won the race," Brodie said afterward, fingering his medal and waiting to imprint his hand in cement.
Abigail Zwick, 5, who came in just behind Brodie, capturing the silver, said the race was so much fun that "I want to race again."
First Published October 19, 2012 12:00 am