The National Federation of the Blind
of Connecticut
Melissa Carney Takes Life by the Reins
By Holly D'Addio
Reprinted from Shore Publishing, December 9, 2010

Deep River resident Melissa Carney is used to overcoming obstacles-literally. Blind from cancer since the age of two, Melissa hasn't let that get in the way of her living her life, as she has ridden horses since the age of four and downhill skied since age eight-all while being involved with music and winning awards along the way.

Melissa started riding horses with High Hopes in Old Lyme and is currently riding with Lord Creek Farms in Old Lyme. She used to do horse shows growing up with 4-H - trail, pleasure, and application - and is now just recently training to compete in events such as cross-country jumping, stadium jumping, and dressage starting next year.

"My first horse show I wasn't really that good, but then in the next show I got first after placing last the first time, so that raised my confidence," says Melissa, who attends John Winthrop Middle School. "In 2007, I had a big year - I received two second-place finishes in both pleasure and trail and a first-place finish in application, which earned me the championship ribbon in the end. Since that, I haven't done many shows because I am now focusing on riding and training for events next year."

Melissa won the High Hopes Rider of the Year (out of 200-plus riders) in 2008 and has also done several riding demonstrations through NARHA (North American Riding for the Handicapped Association) for instructors from across the country who have come to UConn for the program.

"Riding makes me happier because when I'm on a horse, I know I'm free," says Melissa of her favorite pastime. "I find - and my instructor agrees with me - that if sighted people close their eyes, they can really feel when they're riding. Sight can get in the way of the true experience. I have fallen off a horse once, but it didn't deter me. It actually made me happy because it showed me that I didn't want to stop riding."

Skiing has been yet another obstacle Melissa has overcome in her lifetime. Starting at the age of eight, she took lessons with Ski Sundown and, after becoming more comfortable, began accompanying her family to resorts in Massachusetts and Vermont.

"I had a really nice ski instructor at Ski Sundown," says Melissa. "She was so impressed and said at the end of the day she never even saw a sighted person get off the chair lift on the first try. My mom and dad were skiers when they were younger and my brother joined the school ski club so I thought, if he's doing it, why can't I try?"

Melissa's drive to learn - and her instructor - helped her immensely. Her instructor skied backwards in front of her, holding Melissa's hand while teaching her to turn and keep her tips together while maintaining her position.

"It totally amazed me that she could ski backwards," says Melissa. "Portions of the hill she'd let me do alone - I'd follow her voice around. Then I started using tethers and wore a bright vest - my instructor would count down on the chair lift for when we had to get off. When my instructor isn't with me, my mom goes with me with the tethers. I ski alone, but always have someone with me behind me giving me direction and I always have the tethers attached for safety reasons. I usually go on beginner slopes and sometimes intermediate slopes."

To make this even more impressive, Melissa also competes in a race held each year at Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts. Sponsored by Stride, the race is for handicapped people and involves racing on a slalom course. Melissa has received two gold medals and a silver in the three years she's participated.

Melissa has won the National Federation of the Blind Connecticut Chapter's Braille Readers are Leaders Contest three years in a row, having read 6,422 Braille pages, the most in Connecticut. She has also read the Governor's proclamation for White Cane Safety Day and BESB Awards Program for the second time at a ceremony in Hartford, is a high honors student at John Winthrop, plays trumpet in the school band, and is a member of the Drama Club, having participated in chorus and in the production of Oklahoma! Loving to sing, Melissa is also a member of the Connecticut Music Educators Association as a choral member and is an alumni of the Deep River Junior Ancient Fife and Drum Corps as a bass drummer.

"I'd like to thank my mom and dad for driving me everywhere, and my brother, Christopher, for being really supportive of me," says Melissa, who always enjoys swimming recreationally. "I want to thank my instructors Terry Zagryn (skiing) and Jonnie Edwards (horseback riding) who have all been so supportive and have always encouraged me and never been easy on me, but not too tough. I like that because it gives me something to work for. I want to thank the owner of Lord Creek, Janie Davidson, for letting me ride there, Patty Ganey for letting me ride her horse and starting cross-country jumping with her, and the horses for giving me my pleasure."

 

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