A Vision Forward: Sports camp on MU campus teaches kids with disabilities they can do anything

Vision Forward

MILWAUKEE -- For a third straight summer, a unique sports camp on Marquette University's campus offers young people a chance to belong and participate.

"I mean, we're a whole bunch of kids running around. I mean, who wouldn't love that? It's pretty cool. The atmosphere is very excited, and it's just an overall positive," Xin Ju, 15-year-old camper said.

The real positive was the pure joy Ju and the others taking part in the Play It Forward sports camp on MU's campus have experienced.

Vision Forward

"This is my third year," Ju said.

Xin Ju

The camp was created by Ian Kloehn, a Marquette University alumnus. He created it when he was a sophomore.

"Year three is pretty awesome. I'm still getting people reaching out to us, new coaches. We actually have a new speaker this year that's a Paralympic athlete, new volunteers. It's cool to watch it grow and continue to grow," Kloehn said.

The camp is like many others -- focused on sports, but it is unique in that it's for kids who are visually-impaired.

Ian Kloehn

"They're honestly an inspiration to me, all the athletes up there. They constantly impress me with how much they're willing to push themselves to overcome their obstacles that stand in their way or how willing they are to learn a new sport or adapt with me," Kloehn said.

That's exactly what the camp has helped Ju accomplish.

"I don't have to worry about like, looking crazy because I mean, come on, half of us are already like blind-ish, so it's letting go of always having to carry around this worry of 'do I look out of place doing this, because I've been told you can't do that. You're not supposed to.' So it's really freeing," Ju said.

Vision Forward

Being that it's a sports camp, exercise is key.

Jaclyn Borchardt

"A big part of this is really about teaching kids about the importance of being active and how engaging in sport, even with a visual impairment," Jaclyn Borchardt with Vision Forward said.

For many children who are visually-impaired, the opportunity to participate in a sports camp doesn't come easy.

"Unfortunately there's really some staggering statistics that as many as 70% of children with visual impairments get very limited physical education through the schools. As we know, obesity is a big issue for youth, but unfortunately, it's even a greater issue for children with disabilities," Borchardt said.

This year, an active lifestyle was stressed at the camp.

"It's really important that we are kind of planting the seeds of lifelong wellness, so this is about, from the very beginning, teaching kids. I mean, children as young as third grade start participating in this camp," Borchardt said.

Vision Forward

"I know that a lot of physical activity can be a lot harder for blind people to achieve. I think, based on personal experiences  I think it can be a detriment in some ways because you kind of start to wonder 'if I can't do this, then what is going to happen to me?' And you start to look at other, like, less healthy ways of trying to cope with that because especially of social stigma," Ju said.

That's why Kloehn has focused on finding the positives for the campers to enjoy.

Vision Forward

"They constantly impress me with how much they're willing to push themselves to overcome their obstacles that stand in their way or how willing they are to learn a new sport or adapt with me, and we work together to figure out a way to make the sport work best for them. They're an inspiration," Kloehn said.

Vision Forward

And they've been inspired to continue to push themselves and find enjoyment and confidence.

"Just the ideas that it helps you build a confidence in your everyday life, having done this and like, 'Oh, I can play sports. I can do other things that they told me I couldn't join them doing.' I mean, besides driving. That has to wait a bit more longer," Ju said.

Vision Forward

Surely, Ju will find a way to accomplish that, too.

Ju said she looked at this camp as an opportunity to become more of a leader and an inspiration to the other campers -- something that's clearly happened.

CLICK HERE to learn more  about the youth sports camp.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Vision Forward.