September 23rd, 2021
3 min read

It’s All About the First Impression

Alaina Gott is a high school Freshman in Spokane, Washington who loves studying and participates in multiple sports. Luckily, Sable, her black Lab guide dog, is what fuels her motivation to succeed.

Alaina starting her track race. She is setting up her feet on the starting blocks.

Alaina was born with Oculocutaneous Albinism, which makes her eye extremely sensitive to light, Nystagmus (rapid side-to-side eye movement) and Strabismus (crossed eyes) which impairs vision. Yet, Alaina was engaged in sports for as long as she can remember. She began Judo at eight years old and began cross country skiing and wrestling a few years later, all of which she extremely enjoyed. But when the pandemic prevented her from participating, her ski coach introduced her to track and field. "At first I was reluctant to do track and field because I thought it wouldn't be possible being visually impaired. But the first time I tried it, I instantly fell in love with it" says Alaina. Now, she competes in various competitions running the 100m, 200m, 400, and long jump with Para Sports Spokane, and is the first blind female wrestler in Spokane Public Schools.

Amidst athletic successes, navigating was a challenge for Alaina back in middle school. Traveling through crowded school hallways and remembering routes were difficult even with a white cane she adopted in 6th grade. Luckily, she first encountered Guide Dogs for the Blind at a summer camp with the Northwest Association for Blind Athletes "My counselor had a guide dog from GDB and she mentioned how great her dog is. I was amazed how independent she was and how fast she walked," Alaina remarks. So in 8th grade Alaina applied for a guide dog with GDB.

Alaina and Sable walking on a gravel road.

After a lengthy application process, she finally traveled to San Rafael this summer for classes at GDB. Working with her new guide dog, Sable, was a surreal experience: "I remember walking with Sable for the first time. I was nervous but it was awesome. It felt like nothing but like everything. I never walked that fast without bumping into anything," Alaina remarks. In addition, Alaina was able to make friends in her class that had similar experiences. "I made so many great friends who are around the same age as me. I was overwhelmed with excitement!"

Back home, Alaina's first few months with Sable have been amazing. She is able to walk much faster in public while avoiding obstacles, making her feel safe even when traveling alone. At school, Sable quickly adapted to the school schedule and remembers Alaina's classroom locations with the "backchaining" method. Sable also guides her to her track and field club practices. The difference between a cane and a guide dog was incredible: "Using a cane required a lot of brain power, but with Sable I can easily weave through crowds. It takes a special dog to do that." Sable has also made Alaina's social interactions easier because of how adorable she is.

Alaina and Sable sitting on stairs and facing the camera. Sable is licking Alaina's neck.

There is a lot in store in the future for the two. Sable will accompany Alaina when the school Track and Field begins. Alaina is especially looking forward to an opportunity available for her in a few years: "When I'm 17 I want to attend a program by the Washington State Department of Services for the Blind where I can get a job in Seattle, and Sable will be a big help there." They will also be able to attend college together.

"Getting Sable was 100% worth it. Without GDB I wouldn't have my best friend and I would still be bumping into things. Having Sable and having independence means the world to me," says Alaina. There is no doubt their future is bright.

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