Just Keep Swimming: Being Almost Blind Can’t Stop These Siblings

Originally aired on WRAL-TV – August 9, 2018

When a child is born with a severe visual impairment, it may seem like their academic and career options are limited. A Rolesville family with two children with that condition took it all as a challenge.

A special school made it possible for 13-year-old Olivia Wilkerson and her 11-year-old brother, Evan, to dream big.

The siblings spend a lot of time underwater — they’re facing a week of morning and evening swim meets that occur almost daily.

“So that’s is going to be a long week,” said Olivia.

“That’s going to be painful,” said Evan.

Traci Wilkerson, their mother, says pain won’t stop the pair.

“They have each other and they’re really close,” she said.

The two are close because they see the world they same way — in almost total darkness with just a bit of light. Olivia and Evan were born with Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis. Since their parents both carried the gene, there was a 25 percent chance their children would be affected.

As the family explored school options, they discovered the North Carolina Virtual Academy, an online, tuition-free public charter school. From home, the siblings are connected with teachers as well as with other students.

“You have live classes and computer classes,” said Olivia.

The school gives Olivia and Evan more flexibility to pursue a shared dream of becoming Para-Olympian swimmers. They also work as lifeguards at a Rolesville pool, and they are trained in CPR and water rescue.

A Space Camp week for visually impaired children inspired their career goals.

“I want to work for NASA Mission Control to be a programmer or astronaut,” said Evan, adding that he’d love to go to Mars.

“If they have a base on Mars by then,” laughed Olivia.

Their dreams are the one thing both Olivia and Evan can see clearly.

“They’re very determined to do what they want to do, and all I want to do is enable them and give them the ability to do that,” said Traci.

“If I have to do extra work to get there, then I don’t care, I’m going to do it,” said Evan. “That’s how I am too.”

To learn more about North Carolina Virtual Academy, visit https://ncva.k12.com/

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