Focal Point: A blind soccer star who guides others
Antoine Craig may be on top of the world now, but it took time to navigate the world without sight.
“We are the first ever blind soccer team in America, and I believe that we have an opportunity to not just show up in LA ’28 for the Olympics there, but I think we have a good chance of winning it,” said Antoine Craig, a member of the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes' USA Blind Soccer Men's National Team.
Craig, who is also a U.S. Paralympic track and field athlete, ranked No. 2 in the country, is hoping to make it to the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris. The star athlete lives in Richmond, volunteers to coach others with visual impairments and travels around the country and the world to train.
While Craig may be on top of the world now, it has been a long and arduous journey that began in middle school — when he noticed changes in his vision: “I was unable to see books, read books in school, the fine print, I couldn't see the chalkboard. I wasn't able to complete many classes, my grades were suffering.”
Craig recalled the doctor being “very blunt.”
"They basically told me that I have retinitis pigmentosa and there's nothing I could do about it,” he said. “I was going to lose my vision, and I was going to go blind.”
Retinitis pigmentosa is a rare, inherited degenerative eye disease that damages the retinas and causes severe vision loss.
It was 2010, and Craig’s family was moving from Georgia to Virginia. According to him, that’s when he began life as an individual with a disability. In order to navigate the world without sight, Craig had to learn how to travel with a cane and learn how to use assistive technologies like VoiceOver and screen readers."
“On my own, I had to kind of start the journey of like figuring out what's my next steps, right?” he said. “As a blind person, like, how do I even like function now, like what do I do?”
Craig was uncertain and concerned about what he could do career-wise when a friend convinced him to enroll in college. He earned an undergraduate degree in clinical mental health counseling at Virginia Commonwealth University, a master’s from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology and then started his own therapy practice, Legendary U Counseling.
“One of my goals was to make myself available to individuals with disabilities,” Craig said. “I just want to make sure I'd be that beacon for them. Many of my clients, young men clients that come in, like they don't recognize that there is more emotions besides anger and happy, right?
“There's a whole plethora of emotions in the middle there. And just introducing them to those emotions is something I find very valuable and helpful to them, to allow them to express themselves more and not internalize so many things. Because it's really easy as a young man to go through this world and not really be heard or have your feelings validated.”
Craig is now studying for his doctoral degree in clinical health psychology at Virginia State University. He also volunteer coaches young soccer players from the Virginia Department of the Blind and Vision Impaired — working with Sportable, a nonprofit adaptive sports club in Richmond.
“I’ve gotten to the point now in life and career, like, I'm able to give back and kind of be that beacon that I didn't have when I first lost my vision,” Craig said.
Keegan Angevin, Sportable’s senior program coordinator, organizes adaptive sports activities, including a summer soccer camp for students from VDBV. And he enjoys Craig’s efforts with the kids.
“I'm really appreciative of Antoine and all of his work,” said Angevin. “I know he's got a very busy schedule with training, competing. I think any chance we get to have a role model within the community, I think it's incredible.”
Coaching young players with Angevin at Richmond’s Bryan Park in August, Craig taught the players how to listen carefully — to hear the soccer balls.
“Most balls have eight to six rattles, like metal casings in it, that actually has ball bearings in it, and it makes a rattling noise. So, when it moves, it allows us to track it with our ears,” Craig said. “Because we are all actively tracking the ball, if we get a certain amount of distance then we have to stay away, so your hearing has to be pretty on point.”
As he watched the coaching session from the sidelines, Angevin agreed that the way players orient themselves on the field in relation to each other and the ball is critical.
“Blind soccer is all about communication,” he said. “And I think that's one of the incredible things about the game — is you really get to kind of key in on who your teammates are, who your coaches are, who your guides are … but also learning where different pockets on the field are and certainly the touch of the ball.”
Craig enjoys coaching, but he also says social media is an important tool to reach young people with disabilities. He uses his Instagram page to inspire them to get involved with sports.
“When I first lost my vision, I did not know this whole world of athletics, sports existed. And I think that would have sped up my ability to just overcome the challenges of being down or being sad about it,” he said. “I think I could have turned into who I am today a little bit quicker.”
Craig hopes that his story inspires others to aim high.
“Don't be afraid to dream,” he said. “You know, aim for the moon, land on the clouds, right? So, anything that you want to do, there's always somebody out there who's already doing what you want to do. So just reach out to them. Ask them how they did it. Find you a mentor. Don't be afraid to try different things.”