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Fall is here and I am about to enjoy a fun day with a special friend. After consulting the local weather report, I knew my wardrobe was in for a change. On a chilly Saturday in October, I pulled my winter coat out of the closet, donned my trusty rain boots, and harnessed my guide dog in preparation for an adventure like no other. My friend Peyton and I decided to go to a “pick-your-own” farm for apple picking.

Whoever thought that it was a good idea to take a blind girl and a girl who has a temperamental heart condition and mobility impairment to an apple orchard must be crazy! I’m sure we looked like a safety hazard pulling up to the apple orchard with our handicap placard and wheelchair accessible van. But you know, crazier things have happened and where we two are concerned, it certainly won’t be the last time!

Peyton, her service dog Carter, my guide dog Blake, and I made our way through the orchard as tramped our way through the tall trees which were overloaded with golden delicious and Granny Smith apples. Masks on and hand sanitizer at the ready, of course! Getting to the orchard early meant we were the only ones in the rows and rows of apples, and had plenty of space to keep a safe distance. We had a great time, and the distraction of apples all over the ground was no match for our hard-working dogs. Blake even got some apple treats that he seemed to quite enjoy.

Due to my blindness, I was naturally unable to see the apples hanging in the trees. As Peyton’s movement is limited, she couldn’t reach up high to get to the apples. It might seem impossible for us to pick apples, but we did make it happen as a great team. Peyton would guide my hand by saying “left, right, up, down, forward,” until I found an apple, or more likely, knocked an apple off the tree! Somehow, even with our unorthodox method of picking our apples, we left the orchards with two entire baskets filled to the brim with yellow-green and red apples.

It definitely was an amazing morning that we spent in the orchards, picking apples, laughing, and having a fun-filled day with friends and at the same time, exercising our service dogs.

Let me add a thought here; I think it’s important for people to realize that even though Peyton and I have disabilities, we are still typical teenage girls who certainly enjoy spending time with friends and doing the same things everyone else enjoys. Often, adjustments might have to be made, but where there is a will, there is a way – when it comes to apple picking or anything else!

McClain Hermes is a Paralympian and World Champion who attends Loyola University Maryland. She has turned her disability of being legally blind into her ability in the pool. She holds over 20 American Records and has numerous international medals. At the age of 15, she was the youngest member of the 2016 USA Paralympic Team in Rio and competed in three swimming events. McClain competed in the 2017 Paralympic World Championship where she earned a gold medal and was named World Champion in the 400 Freestyle. She also earned two silver medals and two bronze medals at the 2017 World Championships. I’m 2018 and 2019 she won several more medals at the Pan Pacific Championships and span American Games. Her goal is to win a medal at the Paralympic Games. She is currently training for a chance to compete for Team USA at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. McClain has decided to continue her academic and athletic career at Loyola University in Baltimore, Maryland. She is currently a sophomore at Loyola studying Communications with a focus in journalism.
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