Unstoppable Determination

Spohn Earns
Eagle Scout Rank While
Adapting To Vision Loss

By Chelsea Peifer, Engle Publishing Company
Featured Story – Honorable Mention

During the summer before his freshman year at Manheim Central High School (MCHS), Nicolas Spohn began researching and planning for his Eagle Scout project. That was also when he began to notice changes in his vision, with everything becoming blurrier. His mother, Livia, and younger brother, Stefan, were already living with Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON), and soon Nicolas was diagnosed with the inherited form of vision loss as well.

“Your central vision is affected, and it gets blurrier over time,” explained Nicolas, who just completed 10th grade at MCHS. “Mine has stabilized over the past year.” Though he cannot drive, Nicolas makes his way through the halls of MCHS completely on his own and only uses a cane when he’s visiting places he is unfamiliar with.

The question he most often hears from peers is simply, “What can you see?” “For people who have a vision disability, it’s hard to explain what they see,” Nicolas said. While he can see the general outline of objects, he cannot discern details. Recognizing faces is difficult, so he has already learned to identify people by voices and perceive their expression by tone and volume.

Although the vision loss has meant that Nicolas had to stop playing soccer – a sport he loved and played for eight years – being part of Boy Scout Troop 47 in Manheim has remained a staple in his life, and nothing was going to stop him from earning his Eagle Scout rank. Someone from Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Manheim, where Nicolas attends, suggested installing a concrete floor in an outside building that belongs to the church as a potential Eagle Scout project, and he ran with the idea.

The approximately 11-by-13-foot building was previously used by the old high school and still had a dirt floor. In addition to installing a new concrete floor, Nicolas decided to add two new lights inside. He did all of the research, planning, and coordinating for the project, including finding volunteers to complete the labor.

Nicolas’ father, Kyle Spohn, said that his role in the project was merely to offer suggestions and guidance – and little things like reading price tags for supplies at the hardware store so Nicolas could then make the decisions.

“Nicolas never allowed his disability to become a liability. I think that is what makes me most proud of him,” said Kyle. “Many times it would have been easier to use his disability to take the easy way out, but that is not the way Nicolas lives his life – that is something all of us can live by.”

Aside from achieving the rank of Eagle Scout at a young age, Nicolas was also voted to serve as Senior Patrol Leader for his troop as a freshman. He is humble about his accomplishments. “Getting your project done isn’t necessarily hard. It’s just that a lot of kids don’t put the time into it and never finish it out,” Nicolas said. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do. It does take a lot of perseverance and organization.”

This fall, Nicolas will tackle a new challenge as a member of the MCHS cross-country team. His coach has already found a guide runner who will accompany him through practice runs and meets to give him direction as far as turns and obstacles. In the meantime, Nicolas has been practicing on his family’s treadmill at home. In June he attended a week of camp at the Helen L. Diller Vacation Home for Blind Children and had some of the counselors – who are mainly college students – accompany him on runs throughout Avalon, N.J. “A few of the counselors weren’t as used to running as I was, so I kind of made them get in shape,” said Nicolas with a laugh.

When reflecting on his son’s achievements thus far, Kyle said, “I have no doubt that whatever Nicolas decides to do with his life, he will approach it with the same determined and hardworking attitude that has served him so we’ll since he lost his eyesight.”

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