Some of us thrive on adventure: jumping out of planes, rock climbing, going down the rapids.
Homewood resident Marvin Commerford is one of these thrill seekers, and he gets his kicks at the Hull Park for the Blind in Sandy, Oregon, where week-long adventure camps let him discover everything nature has to offer.
Commerford, 62, has been blind since birth, so adapting to new environments is nothing new for him. When he first learned about the camp six years ago, he got excited.
What sighted people take for granted—seeing where you are and what those around you are doing, etc.—Commerford has to learn. He calls it education mode.
But the camp allows him to move out of education mode. That for him “is pretty cool.” He just goes with the flow, whether that is being strapped to a sighted person for skydiving or camping in the woods.
He gets pleasures through his other senses that are heightened, or as Commerford explains, “they kick in. You don’t get more hearing, you don’t get more touch, but you use them much more efficiently.”
Commerford has been to the Hull Adventure Park five times and each time the experiences are amazing to him, whether he’s windsurfing or hiking.
This year, he took a camp excursion to do rock climbing at French’s Dome located near Mt. Hood. The small crag ranges between 80 and 160 feet tall, and it has three routes that are bolted for climbers’ ropes. Commerford was harnessed and was able to feel his way up using those routes. He completed two climbs, and was proud to be the only one in his group to reach the very top.
“It took me a long time and it was a tremendous challenge,” he said. “My hands were so exhausted I could barely tie my shoes. It took about a day to recover.”
But Commerford’s expression tells you he thoroughly enjoyed the day because “it’s the kind of challenge that is very fun. It challenges you and yet you can succeed. It was just excellent. I would probably do that again.”
To prepare for his week-long adventures, Commerford works out on a treadmill for weeks to get himself in shape joking that he is intent on not being the one person in the group who fails at anything.
Commerford and his wife, Mary, have lived in Homewood since 1992. They first lived in Park Forest to be close to their jobs and volunteer work with Aunt Martha’s Youth Service Center.
Commerford, who has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Vassar College, retrained in computer technology first at Prairie State College and then at the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. For several years he worked in the telecommunications industry, traveling by Metra, the CTA system and suburban bus to get to offices in Park Ridge and DesPlaines. Of late he has not been able to find a job. He laments that between 70 and 80 percent of educated and skilled blind people can’t find work.
He taught himself the latest technologies, such as the iPhone and portable readers, and now he volunteers at Second Sense helping others learn how to use the newest gadgets.
“It’s fun; I enjoy it,” he said. “Technology has made it possible for us to do a lot of things.”