Minnesota teen remains active after losing her sight
DULUTH -- Having been blind for just six months, Brooke Wright already has learned how to cheat at cards.
Now, she's prepping to skate the half-marathon in the North Shore Inline Marathon on Sept. 17.
Or maybe the full marathon.
"I'm hoping I can do the full," the 17-year-old from Knife River said recently, moments before setting out on the second practice skate of her life.
Either way, she'll be accompanied by two world-class speed skaters, with world and U.S. championships under their belts.
It remains to be seen whether Wright skates the full or half marathon on Sept. 17. But it's best not to underestimate her.
Wright lost her eyesight on March 1 during successful surgery for a brain tumor that had been discovered four days earlier. She also lost her sense of smell and taste and was left with numbness in her face, symptoms that have abated only slightly since then. She isn't expected to ever see out of her right eye again, but there's hope for her left eye.
Already, some vision has returned.
"I can see there's some white there," she said, referring to some papers on a table in the first-floor office of the Paulucci Building where the skate marathon has its headquarters. "It doesn't really have a shape."
Wright isn't waiting. She took classes this summer at the Lighthouse Center for Vision Loss, learning how to use a cane to get around, how to fold money so she knows a $1 bill from a $5 bill, how to clean house and do laundry and select clothing that matches, and how to cook, all without being able to see.
"She bakes, she cooks, she uses a knife, which scares her mother," said her mother, Kendra Wright.
She learned the Braille alphabet in a couple of weeks. That's where the cheating at cards comes in.
"We were camping, and Brooke's like, 'Well, should we play cards?' " recounted her dad, Chris Wright. "I said, 'Yeah.' She goes, 'Well, I'll put Braille on all the cards.' . She'd say, 'What card is this?' And I'd tell her and she'd mark it in Braille. . Well then she proceeds to play cards with us, and because she had the cards, she was the dealer."
"Well, we weren't even thinking about it, and she's handing out the cards knowing every single card," her dad finished as the giggles turned to laughs. "And she ended up winning all the time."
When it comes to inline skating, Brooke and her dad are partners. They skated together for the first time recently on the Old North Shore Road in the Larsmont area. Recently, they skated with Skeeter Moore, executive director of the skate marathon, on the walk that cuts under the Aerial Lift Bridge.
On Sept. 17, her partners will be Kyle Joustra of Elgin, Ill., a past U.S. champion, and Colombia native Jorge Botera of Orlando, Fla., a past world champion.
That's coming about because of Shannon Cornelius, a friend of the Wrights who is director of the inline marathon's Skate and Fitness Expo. In talking to vendors, she spoke with Joustra, whose employer is the German-based Powerslide skate manufacturer. She asked what would be the best way to help a blind girl compete.
"I gave her some ideas," said Joustra, 27, in a phone interview. "One of the ideas was if two people were on each side of her holding her hand, and if they were very high-level athletes on skates, they could very easily help her down the course."
That quickly evolved into Joustra and Botera, his Powerslide teammate, volunteering. Their company donated Wright's skates and the rest of her gear. But Joustra didn't leave it at that.
"He just went nuts," Cornelius said. "He got so excited and just went with it."
Joustra had wrist bands made in bright blue -- the color Wright can see best -- with the slogan "Sk8 for Brooke." He'll speak at her school and appear at a benefit for her. He got together with friends in the industry to put together a silent auction to take place during the expo to raise money for the Wright family's medical expenses. "There's going to be thousands of dollars worth of things," Cornelius said.
The expenses, so far, are about $100,000, the Wrights said. Chris Wright runs his own business, and Kendra Wright manages Gill's Cheese & Smoke House on North Shore Scenic Drive. They have no health insurance. "We just send them what we can; send everybody something," Chris Wright said about paying the medical bills.
Brooke Wright recently finished her summer classes at Lighthouse and starts her senior year at Lakeview Christian Academy today. She has only a few weeks left to train for the marathon. Can she do it?
"I can tell that she's a fighter," Joustra said. "She sounds very dedicated. . I don't think anybody's ever attempted to do something like this before, and I have a strong feeling that she's not going to need as much help as what people are thinking she's going to need."