By Jennifer Wilkinson
Two days after her 16th birthday, Ashley Eisenmenger came to Leader Dog for the first time for Summer Experience Camp. What followed was a week of new experiences that changed her life. “I rode my first tandem bicycle there,” she says. “I attribute my love of cycling to that, which led to me competing in triathlons.”
Ashley (back, in blue t-shirt with ponytail) with
campers during Leader Dog Summer Experience
The opportunities that Ashley received while at Leader Dog that summer helped her to realize that just because she is visually impaired, she does not have to limit herself or her expectations. Her time at camp represented such an important change that she soon found herself coming back to Leader Dog as a volunteer camp counselor. “It’s one of the highlights of my summer,” she says. “Some of the kids are super confident in what they can do and some of them, it’s the first time they’ve been around other kids their age who have visual impairments.”
Now in college, Ashley is majoring in communications and considering graduate school for sports psychology or looking for a job in her field once she graduates, preferably in the nonprofit sector. She has spent more time behind the scenes at a nonprofit than most others her age since Ashley is a member of Leader Dog’s Voice of the Client Committee. “It’s cool to be on the ground level of all that’s going on here and get an insider perspective,” she says. “It’s reaffirmed the genuine care the Leader Dog staff have for the clients and the dogs.”
Ashley and her running partner training.
Photo by Ali Engin
When she isn’t studying or volunteering at Leader Dog, Ashley trains as a competitive triathlete and endurance runner. She has been racing regularly for about a year and ran her first marathon this year, qualifying for the Boston Marathon in 2017.
Ashley’s experiences at Leader Dog and her guidance of other teens at Summer Experience Camp have contributed to her confidence, and she sees similar changes in the campers coming here for the first time. “It’s a really cool thing to see the kids realize that there don’t have to be limits.” Her message to other young people with visual impairments is to not let difficulty turn into impossibility. “I run triathlons tied to another person, and that’s not how that’s normally done,” she says. “The best advice I could offer is to understand that while the ways you do things might be different, don’t be afraid to try.”