Former Colombian foster child Will Lewis of Dillon won’t let blindness keep him from his love for soccer
DILLON — After all he’s been through — losing his sight, growing up in a foster home and coming to America at age 11 — Will Lewis knows what he wants to do next in his young life: to bring blind soccer to Colorado.
A native of Colombia, Will is currently in Ogden, Utah at a United States Association of Blind Athletes soccer development camp. For the 20-year-old Dillon resident, this is one of several blind-soccer camps he’s in the midst of attending, a collection of life experiences in recent months that he hopes will teach him enough of the ins and outs of the sport to create a community of blind soccer players in his adopted home state of Colorado.
“My goal is to start a team in Colorado,” Will said earlier this week. “And in October or November, I’m planning a workshop where I’m inviting other visually impaired and blind students to come to Denver to experience soccer, to see if anybody is interested in starting a team in Colorado.”
Putting in the work necessary to create a blind soccer community in Colorado is a world away from the predicament Will was born into back in his native home city of Ibague in the Tolima department — or state — of Colombia. Will — told his birth name was “William Conde” — was born sighted, though he lost most all of his vision at 18 months old in an accident and doesn’t ever remember having full sight. The accident left him with what he described as a little bit of vision in his left eye and no vision in his right eye. What he can see via his left eye, he said, is contained to light, shapes and colors, but only at close distances. The accident left Will without the ability to read and write in print, only in Braille.
Despite his blindness, Will, much like other boys in his Colombian neighborhood, fell hard for soccer at a young age. The family he knew growing up consisted of the people and fellow young children at the foster home where he spent his childhood years. It was a home nearby a small, pavement slab that often was a soccer pitch for him and other children from the surrounding communities, though basketball hoops decorated it. Thinking back now, Will compares the playground soccer surface to the size of the indoor, turf soccer pitch at the Breckenridge Recreation Center.
That piece of pavement was where Will learned how to play soccer, where he idolized Colombian scoring legend Radamel Falcao alongside the young boys he described as his “brothers” from the foster home.
“To me, he was always my favorite,” Will said of Falcao. “He was the coolest.
Will religiously followed every Colombian national team game and, when he could, he’d go to check out the local Deportes Tolima professional soccer team at the nearby stadium. One time, the young Will even got the chance to meet the team’s players.
Growing up playing on the local playgrounds, Will was limited in what he could contribute to a pick-up game, as he never really had a coach to help him understand how to approach the sport with his limited vision.
“I knew the basic rules, you know, ‘no hands,’” Will said. “But I wasn’t the guy who could make tricks. I just know ‘the ball has to be kicked,’ and that’s all I did. Then I started learning more, and when I started learning more was when I moved here. Getting adopted was a big deal because I never knew any kind of home and family.”
Coming to America
Will found out at about the age of 10 that he was going to be adopted by an American family. Living in foster care, Will had seen fellow children depart for new families before. Before he knew it, he was having phone calls with his adopted parents through a translator and was receiving presents in the mail.
The day he met his new parents, the Lewis family, Will said was one of the longest of his young life.
“Because I don’t know what to expect,” he said. “I was with these people I don’t know and they take me to a place I don’t know. It’s all new. And I spend about a month while I got my paperwork, passport and all of that stuff. And then I came to the U.S. and, when I came here, it was very hard to communicate with people with the little Spanish that my mom knows. But we managed to.”
Will soon started attending Dillon Valley Elementary School, were bilingual teaching helped him to learn English. Even with the total life change to a new country, soccer was never far from Will’s mind. Once at Dillon Valley, Will said he told his mom he wanted to be on a team, so he got involved with the High Country Soccer Association. Will played there through the fifth grade.
“That’s when I started really getting to know people,” Will said. “Because, if you’re in soccer, I hope you like the sport. Because I love the sport, and I always wanted to play.”
Playing pickup at Dillon Valley Elementary and on some more organized teams with High Country, Will continued his soccer passion. It didn’t come without its hardships though. For the first five or so games with High Country, Will said at times it was hard to figure out where he was supposed to be. But once he settled into his defensive role, Will said there was one moment in a game where he cleared the ball as the team’s last defensive resort, impressing his teammates in the process.
“People turned around,” Will recalled. “‘Hey, you kicked the ball. He kicked the ball!’ That’s when I knew people didn’t expect a lot of me. But I earned more trust.”
With that added trust, Will worked with his family to make the game easier for him. He remembers one day before practice his mom bringing two different color bags and asking him which he could see better. That, he said, helped him to pick colors for balls so he could follow more consistently.
Will thoroughly enjoyed playing intramural soccer during his time at Summit Middle School. But once high school came along, without the option of intramural soccer, Will was left without a direct soccer opportunity during his freshman year at Summit High.
For the rest of high school Will split his time between weekends in Dillon and weekdays at the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind in Colorado Springs. At the new school, Will began playing a lot of goalball, which is the most popular team sport for the blind and visually impaired athletes across the world.
In goalball, two teams of three players each face each other across a court that is 9 meters wide and 18 meters long. The object of the game is to roll a basketball-sized ball with bells on it inside and over the opponent’s goal line. When playing, opponents listen for the oncoming ball and attempt to block it with their bodies. And once they are able to stop the ball and take control of it, they become the offensive team, turning the tide in the other direction.
Blind soccer dreams
Even though he loved goalball, Will said he continued to have the ambition to play as much soccer as he used to. After researching more after his graduation from the Colorado Springs school, Will said he stumbled across blind soccer options. He soon reached out to blind soccer officials in Ohio who then invited him to come out to an event in April. Will returned to Ohio a month later for a more official workshop and is at that camp in Utah this weekend.
Once it’s over, Will will not relent in pursuing his goal to bring blind soccer to his home state.
“I learned so much,” Will said on Thursday of his time in Ohio. “I learned just more control of the ball. I learned that it’s possible for a visually impaired person to play. Now, I’m hoping to learn more skills, because I’ve never played in an actual game. Just little workshops. With this camp being three days long, I hope to learn a lot, hope to get more skills, feedback and learn how to improve the game and learn about how to bring this to Colorado.”
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