You may ask yourself, “What is beep ball, and what does kayaking have to do with it?” Beep ball is a game played by blind athletes with a ball and bases that beep different frequencies. When a batter hits the ball, they have to run to one of two bases that are beeping while the fielders are trying to get to the ball, which is emitting a tone as well. If the runner gets to the base first it is a run, if the ball is fielded before the base is touched, it is an out. These players are incredible to watch; when they get a hit, there is nothing that can stop them as they run to the base. If they are fielding a ball, watching their fine tuned senses during the hunt is nothing short of inspirational.
For the last several years the Comets, a beep ball team from Chicago, have played a demo game against sighted volunteers in an event called the Midnight Express. This huge event to raise money to benefit the sight impaired is held at the end of summer. The Chicago Comets spend a day kayaking with Paddle 4 Tomorrow on the Chattahoochee while they are visiting. This is what started the idea of a kayak race for the World Series.
The day of the race, Paddle 4 Tomorrow volunteers were standing on the bank of the ‘Hooch and we were not sure we were going to be able to pull it off. The river was supposed to be at a low level of 900cfs, but ended up being at high flow of 13000cfs. There were three flights of stairs and a bridge that we had to carry all of the kayaks and gear across to get to the water. The intense heat and humidity just seemed to be additional obstacles to deal with.
Frantic phone calls had several volunteers from my church ready to help with the race and hauling gear. Joe Moore, a representative from the adaptive paddling branch of the American Canoe Association, was there to help with logistics, and did more than his share of heavy lifting. Our local kayak shop, The Outside World, not only provided the boats and PFDs for the race, but they helped haul it all and ran safety boats on the water. The Columbus Sports Council and Country’s Barbeque helped line up the Fire Department rescue squad, a team of life guards, and even a cannon from the Port of Columbus to start the race!
The racers were in tandem kayaks, with the beep ball player doing all the paddling while listening to a sighted navigator. It was a heat-type race, with the fastest four teams competing in the final race for a $5,000 purse to be donated to their team. Every paddler gave their all to the race, but in the end it was the team from Taiwan that came out on top.
After padding all day in the blistering sun and unloading and loading all that gear, our muscles were begging for a break. I knew we would all be paying for it in the morning, but the smiles we saw that day from the volunteers and athletes were worth it. This was an incredible ground-breaking event for our area that hopefully will lead to more opportunities in the future. Seeing the strength and will of these athletes would lift the spirits of any person that has ever swung a bat or paddled a kayak. I can’t wait to see what our next adventure will be!