Q&A: Mckenzie Ayers, Participant in the Knoxville Area Transit Scavenger Hunt

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ayers1Mckenzie Ayers, a rising 11th grader, will participate in the Knoxville Area Transit Scavenger Hunt for middle- and high schoolers Friday, June 12 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Club VIBESs, an organization that helps the visually impaired maintain independence, is co-presenter of the event and Ayers, who is vision-impaired, will be on a team that travels KAT routes by bus to complete tasks. Cost for the event is $10 and the top three teams earn prizes; all participants get T-shirts and goodie bags. (Ayers is pictured with her Club VIBES “pilot,” Jim Wachter.)

What’s your deal with Club Vibes?
I’ve been a member for five years and now I am also a mentor. VIBES stands for Visually Impaired Blind Enhanced Services. I’ve been riding tandem for five years with VIBES—biking members of the community volunteer their time each week or month to “pilot” a tandem bicycle for the “stoker” on the back. That is the person who may be blind or have a visual impairment. My visual impairment is called Optic Nerve Disc Drusen. I was not born with it, but it was degenerative and got worse when I got a concussion. It is permanent, but it has improved some in recent years. It affects my peripheral vision, so it is safer for me to ride tandem. I usually ride 20-25 miles weekly with my pilot Jim Wachter.

Do you get nervous on the bike?
I love riding and I totally trust my pilot. We even rode in the Cycling For Sight event in San Diego last summer with Club VIBES. It was a two-day, 150-mile ride and we had an awesome time.

Can people ordinarily tell you are vision-impaired?
Most people don’t know of my vision issues. I get around really well and love doing any kind of extreme sports. Club Vibes and the founder and president, Sue Buckley, helped me feel okay about my vision and taught me that I can do anything I set my mind to. She also helps everyone learn to be independent and self sufficient in the community and in their homes and teaches new technology that helps with school and day-to-day functions for those who are blind or visually impaired, like the phone texting you can do by voice.

Do you have more bus experience than your opponents?
My team members for the KAT Scavenger Hunt are Ryan Portman and Drew Holbrook and we don’t have any experience on the bus line because we don’t have service near Farragut High School. I am looking forward to learning about the bus system and where it can take me. Especially when I go to college, I would like to know how to get around Knoxville by way of the KAT bus. The scavenger hunt sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun, too, with trying to figure out the clues throughout downtown.

Has your impairment ever made you feel isolated or picked on?
My vision impairment is pretty minimal compared to most in Club VIBES. I don’t feel like I’ve ever been picked on because of it, but I also know that kids can be mean.

Do you have advice for fellow teens who are different in some way?
The best thing to do is stand up for yourself and show others how awesome and fun you are. Then the impairment doesn’t matter. As Sue Buckley says, “It’s not a disability, it’s a diff-ability!” Meaning you just do things differently than others sometimes, but you still do it!

What’s your least and most favorite part of school?
I just made Ensemble Choir for next year, and singing is my first love. I also really like geography and Spanish and learning about new places. My least favorite subjects is algebra. Just not what I enjoy.

What are your future plans?
I will graduate from Farragut High School and go on to college to get my degree in early childhood education and business and one day open up my own daycare center. I love young children and I have three nieces who are 4, 2, and 7 weeks. They are a huge part of my life and I love spending time with them whenever I can.

The KAT Scavenger Hunt 2015 is free to the first 10 teams that enter and then $10 per participant. Middle school teams must have an adult member. To register: kash2015.org. For more information about Club VIBES: club-vibes.org.

Rose Kennedy

Rose Kennedy came to Knoxville to work as an editorial assistant on 13-30’s Retail Appliance Management Series and never saw a reason to leave. Her “so uncool I’m cool” career among the alt weekly newspaper crowd has led to award-winning articles on Dr. Bill Bass and the Body Farm and cyber-bullying at West High School, and treasonous food columns about preferring unsweet tea and feeling ambivalent about biscuits.

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