Thacher student's disability no obstacle
by Kelly Feser Eells
While "high school" means something different to everyone,
nearly every high school senior agrees there is a certain magical
something about the 12th grade.
When he looks back on it, William Barkan, class of '02, will
likely think of his own senior year as a great one.
The Thacher School student sets records in running, recently
completed a stint as cross country team captain, starred in the
Thacher Masquers' mid-November production of "Dancing at
Lughnasa," and, on Dec. 26, received Boy Scouting's highest
honor, the rank of Eagle Scout.
"We just made him," Barkan's father, John, himself
a Thacher graduate, joked. "He
did it all on his own."
Less than 3 percent of the nation's Boy Scouts achieve Eagle
rank, and those who have - former President Gerald Ford, basketball
pro Sen. Bill Bradley, Walter Cronkite, and astronaut James Lovell,
to name a few - satisfied a wide and strictly-adhered-to set
of requirements. According to the elder Barkan, one of the biggest
challenges for William, whose permanent address is in San Francisco,
was a logistical one. "You have to provide (the troop or
patrol) with six continuous months of leadership. And, when you're
boarding, well It's Will's story. We're just very proud of him."
Barkan's story is chock-full of challenge and personal triumph:
The avid hiker, skier and nature lover is legally blind.
Diagnosed at age 8 with Stargardt's disease, a genetic form of
macular degeneration, Barkan - now 18 - has 20/350 vision. He
sees in basic shapes and colors, sometimes has trouble reading
signs, and must hold printed matter an inch to an inch-and-a-half
from his eyes in order to make it out.
He has also earned 21 merit badges, taught first aid, led wilderness
groups, whitewater rafted, and, for his Eagle Scout project,
helped build a half-mile long connecting trail (at the north
perimeter of Thacher School and the public access to Los Padres
"My parents always told me to work hard," said Barkan,
"and that's worked for me."
There is little, if anything, about the outdoors that Barkan
does not appreciate, an appreciation acquired through Scouting
- "and all of the opportunities it afforded me" - and
certainly encouraged at Thacher. "There's the whole outdoor
experience," agreed John, "plus, the school works very
hard at (helping students) build character I think it was Sherman
Day Thacher who said, 'There's something about the outside of
a horse that's good for the inside of a boy.'"
Barkan plans on attending the University of Colorado at Boulder,
majoring in environmental education.
But his "real ambition," John smiles, is to trek the
Pacific Coast Trail, which runs 2,560 miles from Baja to Canada.
Barkan figures the "hike" will take him close to five
months. He also figures that, with a cure for Stargardt's a good
10 years away, he should get in as much hiking as he can. Boulder
may have to wait.
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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