It’s serene, the mountain air crisp. Calm blue waters reflect the morning sun. It’s not like the murky, mucky Chesapeake Bay I grew up with, this aquatic place feels uncommon. Few people recreate early, but they will appear soon enough in boats or on paddleboards and jet skis. We snap fit red life jackets and walk down the dock to where our boat awaits. Captain Sherman welcomes us aboard. We choose seats, stowing totes and canes. Sunglasses and hats? On.
Recreational therapists doubling as deckhands untie the lines. Sherm guides our vessel to deeper waters. Exiting the No Wake zone, he opens the throttle. Vvvrrr-ra, ra, ra, ra. We speed across the reservoir, wind at our faces. I take in the steep terrain surrounding the majestic area.
We reach our destination and our captain cuts the motor. An inflated tube for two bobs at the stern platform. Melissa and I raise our arms to volunteer. We clamber from bow to stern and hand our phones to our videographers. We lower ourselves into the large inflatable, giggling and fidgeting until we pose feet first and reclined for the ride. In the quiet moments before we go we look at each other, our childhoods saturated in maritime and our present with gratitude.
The boat launches forward and the momentum stiffens the towline. We scream with delight. We bounce in churned wake. I flash the thumbs-up signaling our driver, go faster. We holler as cold water pelts our faces, our mouths form wide smiles. Melissa and I look again at the green landscape and vow to remember this experience. We yell away latent stress until our turn ends. On sea legs we return to the bow.
Watching my companions ride I feel content. As the boat turns and veers back and forth, subsequent tubers slide left and right as if guided in a mega float pen. I gaze across glistening waters, listening to the powerful motor in the wind and the rush of water against the hull. A mate offers me a sip of chai latte. I catch the pleasant smell of cardamom.
We switch to waterskiing. It’s hard, sighted or blind. When any skier stands tall, those onboard cheer, if she loses balance we groan. When it’s my turn I crouch on the gray platform and am helped into a pair of skis. It’s been years, but once I’m fitted I recall the squishy tightness of the foot holds.
Last instructions. Time to jump. Brrrr. The water temperature steals my breath. At least I don’t have swim practice ahead of me. I drift away from the white boat as I hold the line handle. Floating is freedom. Gentle tension finds the line. Tips up, I bring my knees to my chest and extend my arms.
Sherm gives it gas and I feel the invisible pull as my body emerges from the water. In my excitement I straighten my legs too soon and wobble. Down I go with a nose and mouth full of water. I’m laughing too hard to mind. The boat circles back and I try again. With patience, I can stand.
Other women with vision loss take turns skiing and wakeboarding. Challenges and determination invigorate us. As I witness the watersport, I reflexively shiver and place a cotton towel on my lap like a blanket. A little more time remains, last call. Even though I’m cold, I elect to ski again. I can warm up on shore. It’s not everyday you go boating.
I reenter the cool liquid, skis affixed and spirit open. On this attempt I don’t quite get my bearings. I bomb out, sinking into the water. I prepare again. Hit it.
I hear the motor roar. I feel the line pull my body forward. I stay squared, then as I skim over the water’s surface, I push my feet down and engage my hamstrings to extend my limbs. The displaced water sprays my body, the wind whistles in my ears. I rise and I rise and I rise. I shriek in accomplishment. I hear cheers the wind doesn’t claim. I glide along as the white bubbly wake passes me. I inhale and exhale in equilibrium. An unbreakable smile lights my face. I gaze toward the shoreline and take in those green hills and blue waters. With the wind at my cheeks I own this moment. I keep smiling and let go.
Note: This experience was part of my time at a retreat for women with vision loss held at the National Ability Center. To find out more about the incredible possibilities and programs the NAC offers, click here. To find out more about retreats for women with vision loss, visit Oasis Center for Hope.