Michael Jordan once said: “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”
Special Olympics Wilkes County Athlete, Christy Poteat, has spent her entire life figuring out just how to work around those obstacles in her path.
Born three months premature, Poteat weighed only two pounds, 15 ounces. To keep her alive, doctors administered oxygen to her throughout her nearly two-month hospital stay and while this was important for most of her development, it was detrimental to her vision. Because of an over-administration of oxygen, she developed Retinopathy of Prematurity, causing her to become mostly blind in both of her eyes.
“I can see the shapes of objects that are near me and sometimes bright colors that are farther away from me,” Poteat says, “and that’s about all.”
Poteat started her career as a Special Olympics Athlete in Wilkes County during elementary school. Now 48 years old, she has competed in bowling, basketball skills, golf skills, track & field, bocce and volleyball. She stays involved with Special Olympics because of all of the friends she has made.
“I love all the people you get to meet, especially at state-level tournaments,” expresses Poteat.
In all of her experience, golf, though a relatively new passion, has become her absolute favorite.
“A few years ago, I went to Camp Dogwood, a camp for the visually impaired.” Poteat says. “When you’re there you get to do all kinds of activities and one day I decided I would try my hand at putt putt golf. From then on, I fell in love with golf. I have been playing for the last three years now!”
Without her vision, Poteat relies heavily on other senses to play golf, a skill seemingly unfathomable to people with their sight. Her routine is clearly established. First, she grabs her club bag where she has strategically placed her clubs in order.
“I know exactly which clubs I put where and I don’t have any problem getting out the correct club, unless someone moves them. Then, I get confused,” Poteat laughs.
Then, she walks the course with a volunteer. They discuss the dips, holes and obstacles, so she can get a feel for how she will need to hit the ball.
“Sometimes, a volunteer will have a cone and will walk the cone out as far as I can see it. Then, they’ll tell me how far away the hole is from the cone,” explains Poteat.
After she hits the ball, her coach gives her feedback on her shot, she adjusts based on what he tells her, and she continues.
Poteat had a lot of people to thank for her nurturing her love of golf. First, her coach, Jimmy, has been around for a while as both an assistant and her head coach.
“Jimmy helps me achieve all of my craziest goals,” she says. “He is a really great coach.”
The second is her local Lion’s Club, a club dedicated to serving and assisting people with some form of visual impairment. Poteat says her favorite Special Olympics memory was when a fellow Lion came out to watch her compete.
“That was special that he was able to be there! It really meant the world to me,” says Poteat.
Amid all of her success this year, perhaps the biggest change in Poteat’s life was the addition of her new guide dog, Autumn. In April, Poteat flew to Michigan to attend the Leader Dogs School for the Blind. It was there that she met Autumn. They trained together for a few weeks and on May 17th, Poteat brought Autumn home with her.
“She goes everywhere with me. She is my eyes; she guides me through life. She is such a huge blessing,” says Poteat. “I don’t even remember what life was like before she was with me.”
This unspeakable bond is evident when you see Poteat interact with Autumn. Poteat was elated that she was able to bring Autumn to every hole in her golf skills competition at Fall Tournament this year.
“I got the bronze medal at this year’s Fall Tournament, but the best part was when they gave Autumn special recognition, too!”
Poteat has experienced incredible adversity throughout her life. She has accomplished goals that some would never even dream about. Through it all, she has the brightest smile on her face. Poteat and her “sweet Autumn” walk through life together one day at a time.
“With practice,” Poteat said, “you can do anything. Would seeing help? I don’t know — you just do the best with what you got!”