National Ability Center COACH Intern Story: Ali Steenis

National Ability Center COACH Intern Story: Ali Steenis


I started when I was about five years old in therapeutic riding lessons. It’s a deep passion… It’s a very deep passion for horses. They’re kind of my saving grace in a lot of ways. I’ve known Ali for a very long time. I started teaching her when she was eight years old. The relationship that a participant develops with a single horse, or horses in general, is very significant because horses are so non-judgmental. That relationship is very special and always trust the horses that I’m riding. After I build a relationship they know that I can’t see. They compensate for that completely. I was born visually impaired, and up until about about my sophomore and junior year of high school I didn’t have a set diagnosis I just had a lot of symptoms. When I started to lose my sight pretty monumentally is when they were able to kind of see what was happening and give me the official diagnosis of leber’s congenital amaurosis. A lot of depth perception and distance vision was just not present So being a kid and sitting in class and watching a teacher do a math problem on the board was… pretty much impossible for me. Or being out on the playground with other kids and not being able to see my friend 30, 40 feet from me. The peak of all my emotions stemming from my disability kind of happened in my junior year of high school I lost a lot of vision very, very quickly and… in that year I experienced some of the darkest and lowest times of my entire life um… very, very lonely and very… not necessarily hopeless, but I didn’t know where I was going and I didn’t know how I was going to get there, and I didn’t have the energy to keep pushing on. And trying hard and overcoming things as everyone, you know, had kind of expected me to do… I didn’t have the energy to do that anymore. I needed to find my direction and I was eager to find that and I was eager to get involved with something that was really meaningful Not only for myself but for other people. That’s when I got connected to the coach-internship program “Yeah you did!” Coming and doing a coach-internship was a huge experience for her because she could directly apply all the things that she has learned by doing it and give that same awesome experience to other participants It was life changing and thats just… that’s the most simplistic way that I could say it. You could say that it’s cliche, but it’s one hundred percent true for me. We want to be a supportive environment, and thats what we provide. And sometimes that’s just the stepping stone that someone needs. We know that by providing a little adaptation or a little push sometimes we all need that, and then they can see their succss and feel that success. It really does, you know, give them that little motivation to continue to move forward. I know with the time that I spent in therapeutic riding I gained a lot of independence and I gained a lot of ownership with my life. Now being able to come back and facilitate that for other people is a really beautiful and humbling experience. Ali’s experience at the National Ability Center has definitely broadened her horizons and her vision of what she wants to do with her life. Her greatest desire is to give back to other people. What a better way to relate and be motivated than to have someone who has a different ability just like you and to see them be successful. Especially for people with disabilities, you know, sometimes it’s a lot harder to find that It’s a lot harder to find that passion that makes you want to overcome that makes you want to defy the odds and do what other people didn’t think was possible. The National Ability Center is really important because it redefines what people think ability is. A lot of the kids, especially that I worked with, were so joyful. It was a lot of freedom for them, and you could see them just thriving off of that. For Ali, to have a program like the National Ability Center believe in her that she can be a contributing member of our staff as an intern and create those life changing experiences filled her up and made her feel like she can take on the world. The National Ability Center is such a huge springboard for people. Participants, staff, families, volunteers, donors, everyone it’s such a springboard to different elements of a journey. Any of us could have a different ability or a child born with a disability or a family member and so to have a place that can help that person transition can help them improve their quality of life and ultimately… have a better life, be a supportive community member, live their life to the fullest, do what they are meant to do here on earth, is what the coach-internship provides. It’s a transitional opportunity and so by supporting that, you are really making a difference in someone’s life.

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