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Burns, TCNJ swimmers participate in Bike the Basin


Ewing, NJ … Coaching youth athletes may seem like a great way to spend a summer, or remain involved in a sport you enjoy. But as senior diver T.J. Burns (Clarks Summit, PA/Abington Heights) has learned, working with kids can extend far beyond the confines of a diving board and pool of water.


Led by Burns, 20 members of The College of New Jersey swimming and diving team recently volunteered to participate in Bike the Basin 2011, which was a charity event organized to raise money for Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis (LCA). LCA is a rare blindness that is most severe form of Retinitis Pigmentosa.



The TCNJ Lions LogoImage via Wikipedia

The event was the idea of the Smedley family and their three children of Northhampton Township, PA. Two of the children are affected by LCA, one of which is a pupil of Burns’ diving tutorials. Since building a relationship with the family, Burns wanted to assist with the event in any way possible.



“I had become close with the families of the swim club, particularly Michael (11) who I was teaching to dive,” said Burns, who placed ninth at the 2011 NCAA championships in the 3-meter event to earn honorable mention All-American honors. “I told Kristen (Smedley) that I would talk to my team and bring volunteers. She was very happy (and surprised) when I told her that 20 of us would be showing up that day.”


Hundreds of Northhampton community members also showed their support, particularly youngsters. A high school student designed the event’s logo and another teen-ager who is afflicted with blindness sang, God Bless America to open the ceremonies. Middle school and high school students from the Youth Action Council as well as 50 members of Villa Joseph Marie High School in Holland, PA also pitched in.


TCNJ swimmers made the trip to Northhampton on a Sunday morning and took charge of parking, escorting families to the registration table, and helping to make sure kids stayed on the bike path while riding. 


At the end of the day, Bike the Basin raised over $20,000 for research.


“A big reason I participated in this event was because of the people I had met over the summer,” noted Burns. “They had always been kind to me and I wanted to give back. When I brought this up to my teammates, the feeling seemed mutual and they were happy to help, even if they had to wake up early on a Sunday.”  



Note: Children afflicted with LCA see less than 10% of what the typical sighted person sees. In some forms of LCA, children are born with almost normal vision, but within the first year of life, most of their retina degeneration takes place. The retina continues to degenerate, and without a cure, chances are they will be completely blind by age 20.


In 2009, researchers discovered that the CRB1 gene was responsible for the boys’ LCA. Researchers in the Netherlands are currently working on a gene replacement that could stop the progression of this disease, and ultimately enable people with LCA to see. This past May, a group of 10 families from across the world (including the Smedley family) with children afflicted with LCA, founded the CRB1 Fund.  Its goal is to raise money to help expedite LCA research. The Smedley family was the first family in this group to hold a fundraising event.


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