In the News: 4-day hike across Haleakala is a life-changer for blind teen

Posted on Jun 16, 2015 in NEWS

By Michael Tsai, Honolulu Star Advertiser

POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jun 16, 2015

In 2006, Shannon Cantan joined four other blind teenagers and a pair of escorts from the state’s Hoo­pono Services for the Blind on a four-day hike across Hale­akala Crater.

Though highly trafficked, the trek is no mere walk in the national park. The initial traverse of aptly named Sliding Sands is an exercise in modest returns for maximum effort. The group’s chosen exit route, a switchback trail that gains some 1,000 feet over 4 miles, can be a bear, especially on tired legs. What lies in between is as challenging as it is beautiful.

To his own recollection, crossing the crater was by far the hardest thing Cantan had ever done — and he didn’t necessarily love the experience while he was immersed in it.

“I was a whiny child!” Cantan says, laughing.

However, it is precisely because Hale­akala was so challenging that it continues to signify so much in Cantan’s estimation of himself and his abilities.

Cantan was born and raised in Kau on Hawaii island, the youngest of six siblings. Like his two older brothers, Shellford and Justen, Cantan is legally blind, his vision progressively degenerating due to retinitis pigmentosa.

Cantan said his condition, coupled with his status as the youngest in the family, equated to a childhood in which little was asked of him.
“I didn’t cook or do my own laundry,” he said. “I never went to the mall by myself.”

At 16, Cantan followed his brother Shellford to Hono­lulu, where he enrolled in Hoo­pono’s New Visions program, which provides comprehensive training in blindness skills, methods and techniques.

The experience — which included the voluntary trip to Hale­akala — proved transformative. Within a couple of years, Cantan had gained the skills and confidence to live independently, a state of empowerment Cantan tested to the fullest by moving to Boston to attend college.  Cantan thrived in his new environment, using his new found skills to navigate the unfamiliar city and adapt to the quirks of winter living, including plowed crosswalks that relocate from one snowy day to the next.

After five years Cantan returned to Hono­lulu as a residential counselor and interim technology instructor for Hoo­pono.
Last week Cantan returned to Hale­akala as one of six volunteer leaders helping five blind transition students, ages 14 to 24, take the journey of their lives.

“They kicked our butts,” Cantan said of the students, some of whom wore blindfolds to eliminate whatever partial vision they may have. “They were a great group. They laughed and had a great time. They really embraced what this program is all about.”
For more information about Hoo­pono programs, visit the DHS website.

Reach Michael Tsai at [email protected]