There are some things Ross Minor really wishes he could see again, 11 years after being left blind when his father put a gun to Minor’s head and fired.
The graphics on the new video games he plays. How could they be even better than the ones he remembers?
The young women around him …
“Yes!” He laughs. “Oh my god, so many missed opportunities because I can’t see. It’s like, I always ask my friend Kaylynn, if we walk by girls, ‘Is that girl cute?’ ”
Minor is 19, a student at the University of North Florida. He’s been blind since he was 8 and living in Charlotte, N.C, where his parents were going through a separation.
One night his father shot him in his right temple as he slept. The bullet went through his skull and pierced his left palm, which was cradling his head. His father then shot and killed Minor’s older brother Ryan, who was 10, before killing himself.
Life since then, Minor says, has been a series of difficulties and successes, despair and joy, dead-ends and opportunities. When you can’t see anything, he says, very little is easy.
But there is a place where he feels at home, where he feels strong, proficient: The water of a swimming pool.
On a chilly morning last week, he slipped into the heated pool at Planet Swim in Ponte Vedra. A grueling hour-long workout was ahead of him — an early step toward reaching his goal of swimming for the U.S. in the 2020 Summer Paralympic Games in Tokyo, shortly after the Olympics end.
He has a chance, says his coach, Alex Indiani.
Minor, who is 6-foot-3, swam in high school, at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind and then at Bishop Snyder High School, a private Catholic school in Jacksonville. He went to the state regionals and often beat sighted swimmers.
He decided on the Paralympics after meeting a blind Paralympic swimmer who was impressed by his high-school results, which compared favorably to those of competitors in the international event.
“Apparently my high school times were pretty dang good,” Minor said. “They said if I can just build my endurance and speed back up to those times, I believe I have a chance.”
There are those challenges though.
After high school, he didn’t swim during a year at Florida State College at Jacksonville. He had no pool or transportation to a pool.
At UNF, he lives in a dorm across from the campus pool, but it’s difficult to get in the water. He says there’s no roped-off lane for him to use for laps; being blind, it’s hard to stay in a straight line, so he’s uneasy about swimming there by himself. There’s a woman’s swim team, but no men’s team with which he can train.
Getting to Planet Swim is difficult because he can’t drive. For now he can only manage to get there two days a week, a far lighter schedule than he’ll need to really excel.
After just a few months, though, his endurance is improving. Still, at practice on that cool morning, he was quickly winded.
A few minutes in, Minor, breathing heavily, leaned on the edge of the pool as Indiani laid out the next set of laps for him to do.
“Hey coach,” he says, “can we use a kickboard for that?”
“Why?” Indiani shot back.
His coach grinned. “Hard is good.”
SETTING A GOAL
Dixie, a 3-year-old black lab, is Minor’s service dog, and lives with him at the dorm. When she’s not working, she’s a regular snuggle-monster: wagging her tail, rolling over for rubs, offering affectionate licks. Put on her leather harness, though, and she’s all business: suddenly calm, sitting down, waiting for orders.
She helps him get around the campus, whose layout can be confusing for even the sighted.
Kaylynn Mann, a UNF student and friend, helps him too; she watched Dixie while Minor went back and forth in the Planet Swim pool.
Mann says her friend needs to be in the water. “It makes him happy. It’s all he talks about, at times,” she said.
As Minor swam freestyle, Indiani walked the length of the pool alongside him. The coach carried Minor’s expandable blue cane, which he touched lightly to the student’s shoulder to alert him just before he hit the wall.
Indiani is Brazilian and once coached blind swimming siblings there: The brother set a record at a Pan-American competition and the sister competed in the Paralympics in 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London.
Minors first step toward at making the American team is a December competition in Charlotte, where he was shot and blinded years ago. Other events will follow.
Doing well is crucial, his coach says. If he makes the team, Minor could then live and train with other national team athletes in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Indiani is a regular coach at Planet Swim. He’s volunteering his time to help Minor train.
“It’s a pleasure,” he says. “I need to help him, no matter how. He stopped swimming, he’s coming back — all the possibilities he can have at swimming, at the Paralympics. That’s a dream for all athletes, Paralympics or not. It’s our life. We need to have goals. If we don’t have goals, it’s just a mediocre life.”
VIDEO GAME WIZ
Minor has more going for him than swimming. He’s majoring in information science at UNF, where he’s learning create to programs and apps, and he built his desktop computer himself.
He’s a video-game wiz at Pokemon and Mortal Kombat, where he listens on stereo headphones to guide him through the game. It’s far more complicated than that, really, and he has numerous video demonstrations on his YouTube channel.
He plays piano, drums and guitar. Perhaps one day, he said, he’ll join a band.
He’d also like to be a motivational speaker, something he tried out at an Extreme Mobility camp for blind teens and young adults. His presentation there, which dealt frankly with depression and struggles with faith, has logged more than 140,000 views on YouTube.
Those camps are a highlight for him.
During summer camps in California, he’s surfed, water-skied and ridden a jet ski. In Colorado camps, he’s rock climbed, skied and gone snowmobiling.
He struggles with depression, he says. It’s hard, after all, to get away from his story. He can’t. But, he says, he’s about more than that, and there’s a lot to like about the life he now has.
“It’s a big part of me. A lot of time a lot of people refer to me as the person who was shot by his father. But I think of myself as Ross,” he said.
“It was a horrible thing to happen to me, but a lot of incredible things and experiences have come from it. I’m not saying it’s a good thing. But it’s not as bad as people think it was.”
The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind (FSDB) is a fully accredited state public school and outreach center available tuition-free to eligible Pre-K and K-12 deaf/hard of hearing and blind/visually impaired students. Comprehensive educational services at FSDB are individualized, specific to the unique communication and accessibility needs of each student for independence and lifelong success. FSDB gratefully accepts private donations to support vital programs that directly benefit students and are not paid by state general revenue funds. To visit the school or to learn more about eligibility for enrollment, contact 1-800-344-3732. For more information, visit www.fsdb.k12.fl.us.