Blindness does not stop Mission Bay High School freshman from finding success as a student-athlete

Mission Bay High freshman Chris Adamson running in a track meet with his guide runner and classroom aide David Cervantes.
Mission Bay High School freshman Chris Adamson running in a track meet with his guide runner and classroom aide David Cervantes.
(Brian Keer)

Chris Adamson is headed to the state track meet in late May


High school is a challenge for most students.

But imagine navigating a campus, completing schoolwork and competing as a runner on the track team when you cannot see.

That is the reality for Chris Adamson, a Mission Bay High School freshman.

With the help of David Cervantes, who is his guide runner and one-on-one classroom aide, Adamson attends classes and runs in track meets.

His primo events are the 100-meter and 200-meter distances. His personal best times are 16.55 seconds for the 100-meter and 35.6 seconds for the 200-meter.

“I was born with impaired vision and then while I was in third grade at Sessions Elementary went totally blind,” Adamson said. “I have Alström Syndrome.”

Fun facts about Chris Adamson

• He has an older brother, David, who attends Mission Bay High and plays tennis.

• His favorite food is sushi.

• He plays chess both online and with a brailled board and chess pieces.

With special education support, involved parents and incredible personal determination, Adamson set about learning to read and write Braille as a child.

There are many styles or types of braille. The first style he learned is known as Unified English Braille (UEB). It is based on the style of braille first invented by Louis Braille in 1824. The braille characters are formed using a combination of six raised dots in a 3x2 matrix, called a braille cell. Adamson learned UEB over one summer when he was 9 years old.

Understanding that middle school and high school would require learning and communicating in ever increasingly complex subject matter, he set out to learn Nemeth braille in sixth grade at Pacific Beach Middle School.

Nemeth braille, invented by Abraham Nemeth in 1952, is a more complex and specialized style of braille used for science and mathematics instruction. In sixth grade Adamson also started learning computer braille.

Adamson met Cervantes at the beginning of sixth grade at Pacific Beach Middle School. The two have been a tight team ever since.

“It took awhile to develop trust and work out the communication between us,” Adamson said. “Now it’s all good.”

What are the two biggest challenges for the teen in high school?

Freshman Chris Adamson stretching during track practice at Mission Bay High School.
(Cyril Reinicke)

Surprisingly it’s not the track part. Adamson said his two greatest challenges are making sure that text material needed for class is ordered early, and the description of on-screen visual imagery.

“For example, if I am assigned a novel like ‘Great Expectations’ it needs to be sent to the VI (visually impaired) department to be brailled for me prior to classroom use,” Adamson said. “I always need the brailled material as early as possible so I don’t fall behind.”

“So much of instruction comes through a screen,” said Cervantes about the challenge of having access to descriptive imagery. “If a film or video segment is not available with audio assist, I am constantly trying to describe the on-screen images as precisely as I can, with as much detail as possible. It is a real challenge. I need to be accurate as well as concise.”

In addition to assisting Adamson five days a week at school and during Saturday track meets, Cervantes is pursuing his bachelor’s degree at San Diego State University. He is a physics major and a child development minor.

Cervantes said he is pleased that his assignment with Adamson is now in its fourth year.

“Continuity with the student/aide match has benefits for both parties,” Cervantes said. “It allows them to build a stronger support and to better understand each others’ needs and preferences. This will lead to improved academic and personal outcomes for the student, as well as greater job satisfaction for the aide.”

He added, “And I have developed a strong connection to Chris’ family.”

Track practice is every day after school.

Danny Perez, Mission Bay High’s track coach, said he is excited to have Adamson on the team.

“I have worked with a number of para-athletes in my career,” Perez said. “From the research I have done, Chris is the only blind runner competing on a California high school track team this year. He is setting records and has qualified for the state meet in Fresno at the end of May.”

Mission Bay High School Track coach Danny Perez with freshman Chris Adamson who runs the 100-meter and 200-meter races.
(Cyril Reinicke)

Cervantes is Adamson’s guide runner. At track meets, Cervantes has the outside lane, usually No. 9. Adamson has lane No. 8. They are tethered with a short strap.

“Running tethered to another person involves a great deal of trust,” Adamson said. “We are in constant communication so that I stay in my lane, so that I cross the finish line ahead of David, and that I am relaxed enough to run at my top pace.

“The 200-meter distance is more difficult for me,” Adamson said. “Not only is it longer, but also the track curves. David needs to communicate the curves to me to keep me in my lane.”