Navigating Immersion Training: The Importance of Red Bull

7 Nov
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Our rock climbing and horseback riding adventure was insane. Maybe I should back up.

As I explained in my first dispatch to you, I am preparing to be a teacher of blind students, and the first part of the curriculum at Louisiana Tech University is immersion training. For 10 weeks, I am taking classes at the Louisiana Center for the Blind for eight hours per day, five days per week. There, I’m learning braille, cane travel, woodworking, assistive technology, and home management.

A few times per year, all of the students leave north-central Louisiana for confidence-building trips. Two weeks ago, we traveled to Arkansas for a rock climbing and horseback adventure.

Let me say here that I do not like horseback riding even when I’m not wearing sleep shades, so naturally, when blindfolded…yeah, not my thing. I’m from Canada, home of the Mounties, but I just…no. Horses are big, they’re unpredictable, and you can’t have open communication with them. But this part of the trip wasn’t optional, so I donned my sleep shades and left my cabin uncertain of what lie ahead.

’Red Bull’

As Amy, our guide for the day, led me to my horse, she said, “Meet Red Bull.”

“Say what?” I said aloud. In reality, I was thinking, “Maybe you don’t understand. I don’t do horses.”

“His name is Red Bull because he needs one,” Amy said.

Relieved, I climbed onto the saddle, hoping this would be a peaceful, straight walk through the field.

As we walked, I could hear the group ahead turning left, yet our guide yelled, “Riiiiiiight.” Not wanting to see Red Bull take off in search of his namesake’s caffeinated corn-syrup, I tugged right…only to discover there was a tree there, followed by some low branches, and…yes…the trail went left, thank you very much. Amy, you see, was just about bent in half trying to watch over all us blind folk.

This happened at least three more times to a couple of us in the group; I started to think this wasn’t so bad. As I settled in, I let my guard drop for a second. Oops.

“STOP! STOP! STOP” the group ahead was yelling, knocking me out of my semi peaceful trance.

What happened? Amy fell off her horse. As in, our guide, Amy, fell off her horse and was chasing the 2-ton creature who had, unpredictably, begun running through the marsh. I guess she didn’t have very open communication with him! I’m sure sitting half-backwards didn’t help, but, I feel vindicated. Horses? Not my thing.

After another guide came to rescue our group and take us back to the stables, the rock climbing part of our trip was just fun. The stationary rock formations, you see, were my kind of thing.

Back in Ruston

When we returned to Ruston and I went on my first travel route, though, I discovered something exciting. The cracked and pothole-laiden sidewalks that drove me nuts just a few weeks ago suddenly felt smooth. I was more confident in my abilities and aware of my senses, sure, but my skills had obviously improved, too.

My travel assignment one day was to accompany another student on a two-mile walk down a street I’d never before traveled. We’d be cruising along and, almost unconsciously, determine if we’d found a street, driveway, or parking lot…and then we’d just keep trekking along. I felt like I jumped from crossing streets to crossing the downtown area…going all the way to Tech Drive. I wouldn’t have thought that I was competent enough for group travel, but the skills and techniques that I’m learning here have proven their worth to me (again).

The walk with the other student was enjoyable and, in some ways, was a great teaching experience. He’s not far behind me in the curriculum, although he’s been at the Center for a longer time. When he encountered a new obstacle, I wanted to go help and take over…but I knew in the long run that wouldn’t help. In my classes, I have always been the beginner, and it was quite the experience to walk with someone in whose place I was just a few, short weeks ago.

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