Valencia High School senior Alexa Canepa enjoys singing, has competed on her school’s track and field team, and lives her life like any other high school teenager. One factor in her daily life, though, is different from what her classmates experience: She is blind.
Leber congenital amaurosis is a genetic defect present from birth that affects the retina in the eye. Due to the eye disorder, Canepa has no vision — just small light perception. Regardless of her disability, she has found ways to remain resilient despite the challenges her day-to-day life can bring.
High school can be a challenge for all teenagers, but for Canepa learning how to navigate her world is a bit more complicated. One challenge she’s faced is explaining to her sighted friends that she can live a normal life.
“My disability is very rare but I can do a lot of things,” said Canepa. “I’ve been a bit sad when I’ve seen kids just talking, and when I hear about where they went to hang out together, and I wish I was one of them.”
A mother’s job is to uplift her children and help them feel better when overcoming challenges. Lisa Canepa, Alexa’s mother, constantly reminds her she’ll be OK. “She keeps me going,” said Alexa.
Canepa is constantly proving to herself and to the world that she is capable of accomplishing many different things. And this weekend, for the fourth time, Canepa will be competing in Cane Quest, a competition specifically for the blind and visually impaired.
Cane Quest is an annual agility competition hosted by the Braille Institute at California State University, Los Angeles, for children from third grade through high school. Students in the competition are given auditory instructions and challenged to safely complete routes using proper travel techniques and appropriate cane skills.
Canepa first competed in the competition in 2015 when she was an 8-year-old at the Scout level.
“My mobility teacher told me about Cane Quest when I was in third grade,” Canepa said. “So when I heard the fact that you can compete with other blind people … I was like, ‘Wow, I want to compete, that sounds fun.’ And I’m a very competitive person. I like competition.”
An orientation and mobility specialist helps individuals who are blind or visually impaired learn how to travel safely, confidently and independently.
Canepa will be competing at the Trailblazer level for the second time. Although she hasn’t placed in the past, she hopes she wins this year.
She said one thing she enjoys about Cane Quest is meeting other blind kids her age.
As a 17-year-old teenage girl, Canepa has overcome challenges that many people will never come across.
“She is braver than I have ever been and she deals with a lot … She’s the only blind kid at Valencia High. She’s not in special education and she has to try to be a teenager and just be included in general,” said Lisa Canepa. “She just keeps a really good attitude.”
Canepa has already started her college applications and hopes to attend San Diego State University as a psychology major. She also enjoys playing piano and is in her fourth year in the high school choir.
“I’ve learned I’m a very strong person. As a blind person I just got to keep going and trying because navigating is not easy,” Canepa said.
Canepa will be competing at the Braille Institute Cane Quest on Saturday at California State University, Los Angeles, beginning at 9 a.m.