By Colleen Sparks
Two Brophy College Preparatory students with visual impairments are among the stars of an award-winning documentary that captures their bold voyage across the sea.
Adonis Watt, 17, a junior at Brophy, and Cesar Yanez, 16, a sophomore at Brophy, were among 12 teenagers with visual impairments who learned to sail through the Spanish Virgin Islands. These teens, known as the Blind Buccaneers, were the subjects of the documentary about courage, perseverance and grit called “Ocean of Obstacles,” which Gravitas Ventures, a Red Arrow Studios Company, released on digital and cable video on demand last month. Phoenix-based director Louie Duran sparked the idea of the film after discovering the Foundation for Blind Children, a North Central-based non-profit organization that helps blind and visually impaired people of all ages.
The teenagers, who have grown up in the desert, first gained their sea legs when they visited Lake Pleasant Harbor a few years ago. That excursion, as well as the teens’ trip to the Spanish Virgin Islands, is among the many events the Foundation for Blind Children organizes to inspire visually impaired people to achieve more in their lives.
Watt, who is fully blind and plays football at Brophy, said he and the other teens learned about steering sailboats and navigating wind when they visited Lake Pleasant Harbor his freshman year of high school. He said he was afraid of the ocean but he enjoyed the journey through the Spanish Virgin Islands, where he and the other youths stayed on sailboats for several days. Watt, who uses a cane to walk around, said instructors told him and the other teens whether to move right or left and offered other useful guidance on sailboats. The visually impaired students also received some direction on sailing in Braille.
“It was a good time,” Watt said. “The most important thing I learned was teamwork. I like doing things on my own. I kind of learned that it’s okay to have other people do what they’re supposed to do.”
He was born with sight but by age 5 was blind. Watt still remembers colors and shapes he saw before losing his vision. His mother, Veronica Watt said she was nervous about him traveling to the Spanish Virgin Islands but he was “really brave.” Marvel created a Braille comic book based on Adonis and his family and featured Adonis in an episode of “Marvel’s Hero Project” called “The Unstoppable Adonis” on Disney+.
Yanez said he was nervous about the trip to the Spanish Virgin Islands as he had never been on an airplane before. He said he is “not a very good swimmer” but he was able to swim and overcame his fear of flying. Yanez can see a little and uses a cane.
“The staff were like super helpful and then I was able to swim and follow along,” Yanez said. “For the sailboat we didn’t use canes much. People would announce when they were heading a certain way.”
Marc Ashton, CEO of the Foundation for Blind Children, enjoyed accompanying the teens, ages 13 to 19, on the trip to the Spanish Virgin Islands. In 2009 the foundation took visually impaired students to Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa and on other trips youths swam around Alcatraz in San Francisco and went whitewater rafting on the Grand Canyon. The adults used small models of sailboats to help the teens understand different sails while in the Spanish Virgin Islands, added Ashton, whose son is visually impaired.
“This is really the rite of passage into adulthood,” Ashton said. “We let them leave home and do this adventure. They were all champions. They were just incredible. The community supported this and these kids all got to do things they never thought they could.”
Duran said he “witnessed the strength and hope these kids possess shine full from challenging themselves.” He added that all the teenagers had to overcome fears and doubt to accomplish their goals and “they all became my heroes.”
The Foundation for Blind Children serves blind and visually impaired people from birth to any age, offering a low-vision clinic, as well as a preschool, elementary school and early intervention programs. Based at 1234 E. Northern Ave., it also provides specialized instruction and materials for youths to succeed in school districts that do not have a teacher of the visually impaired and offers programs to help adults gain workforce skills. To learn more about the foundation, visit www.seeitourway.org.
To see the trailer for “Ocean of Obstacles,” visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=3uHLCDOfR-c.