This article is reprinted from The Collegian, Fresno State’s daily student-run newspaper. Written by Samantha Mehrtash. Originally published March 16, 2016.

Fresno State student, Shaela Warkentin. Photo Credit: The Collegian

On a March night five years ago, Shaela Warkentin’s life as she knew it changed within seconds.

During a car ride home with her sister, she was struck by a DUI driver — a wreck that took two of Warkentin’s senses — smell and sight.

Since then, Warkentin has not only come to terms with her new life, but she has learned to move passed her impairment becoming the bowling class’ first blind student at Fresno State.

Her accident has not stopped Warkentin from involving herself in things that a typical college student would partake in — such as coach Don Duncan’s class.

She credits her attempt at Bowling 101 to her willingness to not give up despite her disability.

“It’s definitely hard,” Warkentin said. “I’m trying to think about how I even encourage myself. A lot of it just goes back to whether you want to do it or not.”

During a recent class, Warkentin entered the crowded bowling alley led by her father who then left her with Duncan. The part-time faculty member in the Department of Kinesiology then led her to a lane where a rail crafted from PVC pipe awaited.

In Duncan’s 16 years of teaching, he said, Warkentin is the first blind student to enroll in his class.

He created a rail for Warkentin with indicators etched on it so she can tell exactly how far she is from the lane and when to release the ball.

Warkentin reached for a bowling ball herself, feeling for the finger holes. Duncan stood close behind, acting as her eyes, and told her how to aim her body and adjust her shoulders.

When she hit the pins, Duncan described the composition of the remaining pins and explained how to approach her next attempt.
Her routine is extremely calculated and proved effective as her scores mirrored those of several other classmates.

“It’s really helpful having this rail that Mr. Duncan made for me,” she said. “Honestly, going into this bowling class I didn’t imagine him making something like that for me.”

The only factor that affected her game was the loud crashes that echoed throughout the bowling alley.

“Depending on the noise, I can’t hear whether it goes in the gutter or not,” she said. “Or whether the pins are my pins and not someone else’s.”

Having bowled most of her life alongside her sister and father, Warkentin was familiar with the game. In fact, it was one of the few activities that her blindness had little effect on.

“When I bowl, it honestly feels the same as when I had my sight,” she said.

Her addition to the class is not only a good example for other students with disabilities, but the staff as well, Duncan said.

“It has been so great,” he said. “In fact, it has been such a great learning experience for me and really rewarding to see her bowl without bumpers up.”

She has a strong outlook as she is still actively doing the activities she enjoys most.

“I might be considered disabled, but I like to consider it ‘differently abled,’ because I can rock climb — I can ski,” Warkentin said. “I just went skiing a few days ago. I can go riding on a tandem bike. I can bowl. We can do this stuff, but we just have to do it in a different way.”

Disabilities are often accommodated at Fresno State, as displayed by Duncan, so there is no reason students who are “differently abled” should feel discouraged from taking courses that would otherwise challenge them, such as bowling, Duncan said.

Even outside of the bowling alley, Warkentin is adamant about not missing out on any experience merely because she is different.

“I mean honestly when it comes to my personal life, I wouldn’t want to sulk. And be like ‘Oh, I can’t do this. Oh I can’t do that. Oh look at them, they’re having so much fun.’ When you know what, I can be the same,” Warkentin said.

She encourages anyone, not only those with disabilities, to not hesitant to try something out of their comfort zone.

“I would just encourage them to not give up because you can do it,” she said. “It might be hard because it won’t be the same as everybody else, but, I mean, why does that even matter?”

Now as a third year pre-psychology major she is determined to take her experience in a positive direction and use her struggle alongside her love for kids to inspired others.

“I’ve experienced life throwing a turn at you,” Warkentin said, “but I know for sure that I want to be a therapist whether it be at a hospital or a school, wherever. I love helping.”

View The Collegian article in full at the link.