For quite some time, we have followed the adventures of Rowan Garel; his ascent to the summit of Victoria Peak, his mission to walk across Belize and his dive into the depths of the Blue Hole. While a children’s story book highlighting these brave feats has been published, the recent high school graduate is preparing for what may very well be his greatest challenge yet. Rowan, no longer the little boy that we watched growing up right before our eyes, is getting ready to attend Drew University in New Jersey. It’s a giant step for him, leaving home to take on the big city by himself. He spoke with News Five’s Isani Cayetano about his pending challenge.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
Eighteen-year-old Rowan Garel, I’m certain most of you at home know who he is by now, is getting ready to fly the coop. Yes, the little boy who grew up right in front of our television sets, is heading for college abroad. For some, it may not be as big a deal as his thrill-seeking interests, but for this visually impaired adolescent, leaving home to pursue higher learning is his way of embracing adulthood.
Rowan Garel, Visually Impaired Student
“Certain things I’m looking forward to are just very, not necessarily college-related but living on my own. One of these things is learning how to cook. I, as I mentioned before, I speak to blind people on Skype sometimes and I just hear them saying very casual things like, “oh I think I’m going to have breakfast now so I’ll be back. I’ll go make pancakes with eggs and sausage and bacon and that just sounds so amazing because to be able to get up and cook your own food, I mean I probably wouldn’t feel very happy about doing that in the early morning when I’d probably like to be asleep.”
While he may not necessarily be a lark or a morning person, Rowan’s high school years have somewhat prepared him for what lies ahead. So have his parents. His mother, Milagro Garel, has been at his side every step of the way.
Milagro Garel, Rowan Garel’s Mother
“For me, I never thought that I would still be as strong as I am to be able to do everything that needs to get done and we’re here and I think I’m ready to let him go. It’s very important for him to find his independence and Rowan has proven that he definitely wants to take on that challenge. So we are ready to let him go.”
Of course, a huge part of Rowan’s liberation has to do with him deciding which university he wants to attend. That decision, unfortunately, was born out of the many hurdles he’s had to overcome at school.
“Some of the challenges were just applying to college, making sure that I got everything in. Normal stuff. But another challenge we faced was with the SAT. Since I am a blind or since I’m disabled it’s a normal SAT exam that I have to take but the procedure is different. The school is supposed to register for the exams since it’s a modified version and if it was a sighted person taking it they would have to register by themselves so there is a different process there. And, the process was not carried out in a timely manner.”
That foot-dragging, on the part of secondary school he attended, according to Rowan, has severely limited his options. A majority of the universities he applied to require students to sit a Scholastic Assessment Test or SAT. To date he has been unable to do so.
“I applied to the Williams College in Massachusetts, to the University of Richmond in Virginia and Davidson College in North Carolina but all of these colleges require SAT scores to accept a student. It’s mandatory. So, unfortunately, I was not able to get into those but I am going to the Drew University in New Jersey and it doesn’t need SAT scores but it’s still a very prestigious university and I am really happy to be going there.”
Rowan’s accomplishments, whether academic or otherwise, would not be possible without a strong support system which includes his family at home and at the Belize Council for the Visually Impaired.
Carla Ayres-Musa, Executive Director, BCVI
“We’ve known you for so long and we’ve watched you grow from a very smart, intuitive little boy to an amazing, even smarter, selfless young man and we’re so proud of you.”
He's blind, but that didn't stop Rowan Garel from climbing to the heights of Victoria Peak, and diving to the depths of the Blue Hole. He became known for his incredible courage, determination and will to show other blind kids that they too can do anything they set their minds to.
We've been following him since boyhood, and now as a young man, he is the subject of a new children's book called "Climb, Walk, Dive" Adventures of Rowan Garel. The launch was held this morning at the Image Factory and we stopped by to find out why Rowan's story transcends boundaries:
He made history in 2011 when he climbed Victoria Peak.
He stunned everyone in 2013 when he dove the blue hole. And he amazed us all when he walked form Benque Viejo to Belize City. These are just 3 of Rowan Garel's feats. and today at the Image Factory, those adventures were captured on the colourful pages of this new book.
Yasser Musa - Director, Image Factory "Climb, Walk, Dive the adventures of Rowan Garel is a collaborative children's book. It is a story about family, tenacity and hope. His three adventures carried out to raise funds for others is the definition of charity, community and conscious."
For writers Katie Usher and Gia Martinez, and illustrator Marvin Vernon, producing this book was in itself an inspiration.
Katie Usher- Writer "Just like Yasser, I am inspired by Rowan, he is my hero too. And so we talked about his story and we talked about not just the grandness of raising money but having hope and not allowing obstacles to be obstacles but to taking obstacles and turning them into challenges."
Gia Martinez- Writer "For me this book was also inspirational. I find that for me it starts a legacy, a beautiful legacy because a lot of us feel that we as people can't be able to do things and we see someone who is unable to see but at the same time is able to take on all this on his own and becoming someone to help out others not only himself and that is the beauty this book."
Marvin Vernon - Illustrator "I am really thankful for the opportunity to be able to actually do my part in making this book come to life. It was a long process but I did my best to do my best; I gave it my all is what I am trying to say."
And it's that same spirit of determination and hard work that Rowan wants everyone to strive for.
Rowan Garel - Inspiration "I hope that if there is one thing that you take away from this book is not that I am an amazing person or I am this idol or this role model that you should have because I'm not doing this for as they would say gold or glory; I'm doing this to let all of you know that we could all make a difference in anything we put our minds to. I'm not going to say the cliché you can do absolutely anything because if you were to jump off a cliff and expect to fly that probably wouldn't work out very well for you. But if you put your mind to something that is reasonable you can do it as long as you have determination."
But apart from that, Rowan wants this book to change the way blind and deaf people are treated - he says they are just like everyone else.
Rowan Garel - Inspiration "Blind people and deaf people and people with disabilities on a whole we aren't different, we aren't outcasts, you shouldn't be afraid to talk to us. We're very interesting because we are normal people."
"I have met blind people that like drinking, I've met blind people that don't like drinking. I've met blind people that do everything I heard sighted people do."
And the sighted kids were all engaged as well, ending the launch with a few words from Rowan's story, a story that celebrates hope.
Ronford Flowers - St. Mary's School "He and his dad would climb the tallest mountain in Belize Victoria Peak. So Rowan and his dad joe began training by walking for miles and miles every day. Later they went to walk up hills until the felt ready to start the massive climb."
The book is available for $15 dollars at the Image Factory as well as other book stores in the country. There are plans to translate the book into Spanish and Mandarin and have it distributed in Taiwan and other countries.