Donald B. Snow first won the horseshoe championship at the Blinded Veterans Association, Florida Regional Group’s state convention in March. Then he found himself a 10-pin medal winner at the Association’s National Golden Age Games in Des Moines, Iowa, in May.
Snow, 78, of East Naples, attributes these triumphs, despite his macular generation, to lots of practice when he was sighted and younger.
“Persistence is the key,” Snow advises.
Snow began bowling competitively in South Portland, Maine, in his 30’s and won many a candlepin trophy. When he moved to Naples in September 1998, he continued competing in those events he had mastered as a younger man. His family, including several brothers and nephews, would compete in horseshoes at annual summer picnics. After making the move to Sapphire Lakes, he practiced almost daily with a group of retired residents. Horseshoe tournaments were held every winter after the majority of players had returned from their residences up north. Snow and his team won the championship twice, and the competition is tough. Snow is the only blind competitor.
He became blind in 2001 from macular degeneration, experiencing blurred vision and other symptoms he did not recognize as serious. By the time he met with a physician, all that could be done was to cauterize the bleeding blood vessels, and as a result, lose vision. Snow can still see peripherally, and to aid in his horseshoe play at Sapphire Lakes, the stakes at one of the pits have been painted white so he can find them against an otherwise black background.
The Blinded Veterans Association is a godsend to individuals who have lost their sight. The name “blinded” refers to vets who have become blind either after their military service or as a result of their service. Most of Snow’s comrades in the association have become blind, as he has, later in life.
In the horseshoe tournaments recently completed at Daytona Beach and in Des Moines, Iowa, an assistant stood behind the participants to help “line them up” so that their throws would be in the proper direction. Of course it was up to the participant to determine the distance to the “ringer” and give the throw enough “uumph” to be successful.
“I missed the white stakes,” Snow admitted, referring to the adjustment made for him at Sapphire Lakes.
The Blinded Veterans National Golden Age Games feature a number of athletic events including nine ball (pool), horseshoes, bowling, shuffleboard, dominoes, checkers, golf, croquet, shot-put, discus, swimming, cycling and air rifle. Veterans are divided into age categories, and some of the sports include competition by both sighted and blinded individuals in the same event. Nine-ball is such an example.
“I didn’t last long in that competition,” Don quipped.
The National Games are held in a different city each summer, and encourage Veterans Affairs patients over the age of 55 to make physical activity a central part of their lives. As such, they are a national showcase for the preventative and therapeutic value of sports, fitness and recreation.
Snow became a member of the local Blinded Veterans Association a number of years ago, and he and other blind bowlers hone their skills on Wednesdays at the Woodside Alley in East Naples. Snow’s highest one-game score so far has been a 200. Although a championship candlepin bowler, Snow never tried 10-pin until after becoming blind.
“It was a tough transition,” he said. “Candlepin balls are small and can be held in the palm of your hand. Ten-pin balls must be custom-made so that the finger holes are the right size and the bowler can throw that much weight.”
The benefits of membership in the Blinded Veterans Association goes beyond sports. A three-month residential program in life skills is available at the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center, as well as a several-week computer skills program. At the close of the computer class, Snow was provided a desktop computer with special software that “reads aloud” the text on the screen. He can now can send e-mails and compose correspondence without having to see to do it. At the close of the life skills program, he was given a “Merlin,” which magnifies pages of print that are placed on its surface. Snow uses the “Merlin” to write checks, read the daily mail and enjoy family pictures.
A continuing competitor despite his loss of sight, Snow is a model for all who seek to be the best they can be regardless of circumstances.