Ginger Irwin, BS’77, MS’79
Ginger Irwin may have experienced déjà vu while watching the recent Olympics in British Columbia. “At opening ceremonies when you walk in with the whole U.S. team, and you realize that you’re there representing your country, it’s just incredible,” she says.
Irwin earned degrees from Peabody in physical education and adaptive physical education and has coached visually impaired athletes on the local, national and international level, serving as a swim coach for U.S. athletes at the Seoul (1988) and Barcelona (1992) Paralympic Games. She began coaching at the Missouri School for the Blind and has coached at national and international events for the United States Association for Blind Athletes.
Irwin learned to coach swimming while at Peabody, assisting the coach for the Vanderbilt men’s swim team. She finds that much of what she learned as a coach helps in her career as an orientation and mobility specialist—teaching independent travel skills to people who are visually impaired.
“When you’re coaching, you’re working on building up their confidence,” Irwin says, “and that’s also very important when you’re teaching individuals to be more independent. They have to trust you and know that you’re not going to let them get hurt when you ask them to cross a street.
“Learning how to analyze sports movements,” she continues, “has also helped me in working with mobility. I had a student with cerebral palsy who was visually impaired, and every time he’d step off the curb, he would veer into traffic. Once I really watched his motor skills, and I suggested he make a more conscious effort to step off with his other foot, he was able to start with a straight line of travel and continue across safely.”
A number of visually impaired girls were on my floor [in Gillette Hall]. Because of meeting and knowing those ladies, I realized that a visual impairment was not going to stop them from doing what they wanted to do.
Irwin’s clientele spans all ages. She has worked with kids as young as 3 and adults as old as 83. “That’s what I love about doing mobility,” she says. “There is such a range of individuals. I never get bored with it.”
As if teaching orientation and mobility is not enough, Irwin is also the village clerk for Wauconda, Ill. “I like the small town that I’m living in,” she says, “so it gives me the opportunity to get involved with the village itself and give back.” She also teaches courses for the Hadley School for the Blind, the largest, worldwide distance education program for persons who are visually impaired, their families and professionals.
Irwin thinks the catalyst for her work with the visually impaired may have been when she was a resident advisor in Gillette Hall during her senior year.
“A number of visually impaired girls were on my floor,” she says. “Because of meeting and knowing those ladies, I realized that a visual impairment was not going to stop them from doing what they wanted to do. It’s just a question of how you’re going to do what you want to do.”
Ginger Irwin has figured that out.