Just when you think Ahwatukee’s Adonis Watt can’t surprise you anymore, the 14-year-old ups the ante and does it again.
Watt began losing his sight at age 5, and the congenital glaucoma had him totally blind by the time he was 6.
Even then, it wasn’t enough to stop the intrepid youngster from excelling at Kyrene del Milenio Elementary starting in second grade after spending much of his first grade year conquering braille at the Foundation for the Blind Children in Phoenix.
Nor did he let his blindness keep him from playing football with the Southeast Valley Football League while in elementary school.
And at Kyrene Akimel A-al Middle School, Adonis excelled on the wrestling team.
Fast forward to this year, his freshman year at Brophy Prep. He’s a running back on the freshman football team and is preparing for a six-day Caribbean sailing experience in November with 11 other Phoenix-area blind or sight-impaired teens.
Adonis continues to astound, and his parents, Marvin and Veronica Watt, are among those watching in awe.
They continually express their amazement at his determination to be just another kid — and his refusal to let his blindness handicap him doing whatever he sets as his goal.
Even if those goals include football and sailing the Spanish Virgin Islands.
“We never stopped him from pursuing sports. There are so many things he’s already done. When he was little and playing football,” his mother said, explaining:
“He told us, ‘If I get hurt, it’s not because I’m blind. It’s because football is a rough sport.’ His older brother, Jordan, is an outside linebacker for Chadron State College in Nebraska, and in his years of football, he’s had knee surgery and two broken bones, but Adonis has had no injuries.”
Veronica Watt, who works in human resources at University of Phoenix while pursuing her doctorate, said it was Jordan, 21, who asked to be an assistant coach when his younger brother decided to go back to the Southeast Valley Youth Football League following the loss of his eyesight.
“He said the only way he wanted Adonis to return was if he could be involved,” she said, adding his 10-year-old sister Sanaa, a Kyrene del Milenio fourth-grader, is also rooting for him.
Adonis also has joined the Blind Buccaneers for a 120-nautical mile sail.
As one of the 12 blind or sight-impaired area youngsters selected by the Foundation for Blind Children to sail the Caribbean, he and Ethan Roberts, a Mesa sophomore at Dobson High School, will be crewing one of the three Blind Buccaneers sailboats.
Before the teens head off, they will receive training on Lake Pleasant by the Peoria franchise of Tiller and Kites Sailing School.
The concept of these young people, ages 13 to 19, sailing the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean is mind-boggling to some, but not to them — nor to Marc Ashton, CEO of the foundation.
“The Foundation for Blind Children’s philosophy is very simple: ‘Vision loss is a diagnosis, not a disability,” he said.
“We know our students are capable of anything, and they prove it over and over again,” Ashton added. “This time, they’re crewing three sailboats and circumnavigating the Spanish Virgin Islands. There will be pain, there will be heat, there will be open waters, there will be sea sickness.
“But when these blind kids land on that final shore, they will know they did it.”
Ashton added, “And in a few years from now, they’ll be sitting across the desk in their first job interview, and when the employer questions their ability to do the job because of their vision loss, all our kids will have to ask is, ‘Have you ever sailed around the Spanish Virgin Islands? I have — without sight.’”
As CEO for 12 years, Ashton became acquainted with Adonis Watt when he had just lost his vision at age 6. He said he remembers when Adonis helped raise $50,000 by amping up the crowd at a Barrett Jackson auction. The car had expected a top bid of $16,000.
He also recalled when the youngster was invited to meet with President Obama.
“Believe me, I could go on and on,” said Ashton. “Adonis commits and goes for it. He’s a pretty special kid, and his parents are incredible and encouraging.”
When Adonis enrolled in Brophy, next to academics, football was on his mind.
“Being blind is not my personality,” said Adonis. “You should be able to do whatever you want to do.”
High school level football wasn’t intimidating.
“It was nothing really new, I’ve been doing this for a long time. Now maybe they didn’t know how we were going to do it, but I knew I could do it,” he said.
Ahwatukee twins Matthew and Anthony Diaz are team members of Adonis on the Brophy Prep freshman football team.
The two 15-year-olds, who previously attended Summit School of Ahwatukee, play linebackers on defense and wide receivers on offense.
“It’s a great experience playing with Adonis,” said Matthew Diaz. “I honestly didn’t know how he’d do it, but he showed everyone right off that he knew how to play football. And he has a great sense of humor, when he’s out there he makes me laugh.”
“He is like any other kid, and I like hanging around him like I like hanging out with Matthew,” said Anthony. “Adonis could be my brother, and now that we play football together, he is. I think of all the players on the team as my brothers.”
Anthony added then whenever Adonis is taught new plays, “he gets it right away.”
And that ability to learn quickly is what Adonis is counting on with the sailing adventure.
“It will be pretty cool, pretty fun and probably a little scary,” he said.
Like the fellow Blind Buccaneers, he’s had no previous sailing experience; and soon enters an intense months-long sail training program.
Fundraising is still ongoing for the Blind Buccaneers, said Veronica Watt.
“They’ve made it very simple to donate through Arizona’s charitable tax credit, meaning your donation qualifies for a dollar-for-dollar tax credit from Arizona. This costs you no money but provides a blind child the learning experience of a lifetime. Any amount will further our challenge event,” she said.
Donations can be sent to SeeItOurWay.org/blindbuccaneers. Information on FBC can be seen on the same website.