Camille O'Neill

Camille O’Neill, right, stands with adaptive sports specialist Jessica Baldwin on the practice green at Indian Creek Golf Course.

Camille O’Neill lined up her driver at the Indian Creek Golf Course driving range Thursday morning.

O’Neill, 14, was born about 15 weeks premature and diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity. It’s a disorder that can lead to lifelong visual impairment or blindness. O’Neill now has a prosthetic right eye and some vision in her left.

“If you put a toilet paper roll near your eye, that’s what I can see” out of her left eye, she said.

Her limited vision doesn’t keep her from playing golf. Thursday, she hit the ball as far as 80 yards . She also worked on her short game, chipping onto practice greens, as well as sinking putts.

O’Neill was one of several participants in Outlook Nebraska’s annual Stanley Truhlsen Jr. Memorial Blind Golfer Clinic. O’Neill has participated in the event every year since she was 8.

“I just think it’s really fun and it’s a good experience,” she said. “I learn something new every time.”

The event, which aligns with Outlook Nebraska’s Tee It Up Fore Sight fundraiser, allows those ages 9 and older to work with golf professionals on the fundamentals of the game.

The clinic finishes with a chance for participants to play three holes.

After the clinic, Tee It Up Fore Sight offers a lunch, followed by a four-person scramble tournament and a dinner. All funds raised benefit Outlook Nebraska’s enrichment programs.

In 2018, the tournament raised $40,000, doubling the amount raised the previous year.

The programs allow visually impaired youths and adults to stay active and connect with others like them through such events as an art program and a bowling league. Other events include skiing and kayaking.

“They build a social network because they understand what each other is going through, and so they look forward to coming back and seeing each other,” said Lisa Kelly, Outlook Nebraska’s director of enrichment programs.

Rachel Carver, the group’s public relations facilitator, said that for some program participants, it’s about regaining confidence. Carver, who has been blind all her life, said more people become visually impaired later in life than are born with visual impairments. The transition to little or no sight can be hard, she said.

“I ride bikes, I’ve roller-skated, rode horses, all sorts of things,” she said. “But when you lose your vision and don’t have that understanding of, ‘Yes, I can still do these things,’ it can change your life a lot.

“We feel that our programs can play a role in bringing those opportunities back to people.”

Mike Messerole, who volunteers as an adaptive sports specialist for Outlook Nebraska, has worked the golf clinic for the past five years. He said he helps participants make any necessary modifications.

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“It may be changing their grip, changing their stance,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s using a different club, sometimes it’s switching (from right-handed to left-handed). Several of our participants have some vision, but their depth perception isn’t real good, so they actually will swing better with their eyes closed.”

O’Neill said the annual clinic has allowed her to become a more confident golfer and increased her enjoyment of the game.

“I actually got new clubs for Christmas,” she said. “So my dad and I were gonna go sometime this summer.”

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