‘Braille break from Alcatraz’

2013-09-27T05:15:00Z 2013-09-27T09:39:14Z ‘Braille break from Alcatraz’By LARRY HENDRICKS News Team Leader Arizona Daily Sun
September 27, 2013 5:15 am  • 

Imagine swimming more than a mile from the infamous Alcatraz prison to San Francisco.

Stories of prisoners who have tried and failed are legion.

Feel the cold water.

Taste the salt water.

Now, imagine doing it without being able to see.

Katie Cuppy, a 19-year-old freshman at NAU, will attempt the swim Sunday to show the world that being blind doesn’t have to limit her in what she can achieve in life.

“I kind of want to prove that blindness isn’t a barrier,” Cuppy said. “Blindness isn’t the end of the world.”

Cuppy, born with albinism and three months early, has been blind since birth. Her optic nerves were underdeveloped. Indoors, she can see slightly — shapes, colors, prints if they are very large.

Outdoors, the light hurts her eyes and she cannot see at all.

Cuppy will be making the swim with two others for the Phoenix-based Foundation for Blind Children. The event offers people an opportunity to support a swimmer with financial donations and spread the world that “vision loss is just a diagnosis — not a disability,” according to information from FBC.

The foundation has put together similar events in the past, including a trek up Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, and a single-day, rim-to-rim hike at the Grand Canyon.

The foundation, created in 1952, has the mission “to provide education, tools and services that enable all persons with vision loss to achieve greater independence.”

So far, Cuppy’s team has raised $6,500 for her swim Sunday.


Called the “Braille break from Alcatraz,” the swim will begin at Alcatraz and end up at Hyde Street Pier. The event is part of the 2013 Alcatraz Invitational Swim. Cuppy and the other two swimmers will be flanked by two sighted swimmers and a host of safety personnel in boats and kayaks.

“At first, I was kind of apprehensive, but now I’m totally excited,” Cuppy said.

The sighted swimmers will keep her on course by serving as “bumpers” for her to adjust her direction.

“Any sign of weakness, they pull you out,” Cuppy said of the support staff monitoring the swim. She’ll be swimming in a wet suit and a thermal swim cap to fight the frigid 50- to 60-degree water for which the bay is known.

She has been working with a coach and swimming at the Wall Aquatic Center every chance she gets in preparation for the event.

She has done timed swims at Lake Pleasant for open-water experience. She has worked her way up to swimming nearly 2 miles, and her last timed swim was 1.75 miles in about 73 minutes.

She left for San Francisco Thursday and will jump into the water at 9 a.m. Sunday to begin her swim with the other two blind swimmers.

Her parents have been supportive.

“They’re a little nervous, but they’re mostly excited,” Cuppy said.


At NAU, Cuppy is seeking a degree in special education. In her first semester, she’s taking 17 credit hours worth of classes. The foundation helped her with texts in Braille and other equipment that helps her in her studies.

“You can do what you put your mind to,” Cuppy said, adding that it is why she wants to teach special education. She wants to be an example, to “walk the walk.”

Does she see the swim as metaphor, of escaping prison for freedom?

“In a way,” she said. “We’re trying to escape the stigma and the stereotypes with blindness.”

She has no doubt she will make it. She already knows, she said, she can do what she sets her mind to. Succeeding at the swim will add to that knowledge.

“It will be an awesome feeling of pride and accomplishment,” Cuppy said.

For more information about the Foundation for Blind Children, visit seeitourway.org.

Larry Hendricks can be reached at lhendricks@azdailysun.com or 556-2262.

Copyright 2015 Arizona Daily Sun. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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