Mason Myhand was born without sight due to Norrie Disease, a rare genetic disorder that primarily affects the eyes.
At first, Mason, now 18, tries to downplay the significance of the moment he passed his Eagle Scout board of review.
“It was another checkbox I could check,” says the resident of Roswell, Georgia.
His father — who’s mostly let Mason do the talking up to this point in our interview — can’t help but interject.
“When you came out of the board of review, you were bounding,” says Brent Myhand. “I mean … bounding.”
This elicits a smile from the younger Myhand.
“Yeah, I was very proud,” he says.
As well he should be.
“I recall him coming out of his Eagle Scout board of review,” says Jason Sutton, Mason’s Eagle Scout advisor, “and him telling me that he earned Eagle. And boy, did he truly earn it.”
An active Cub Scout
Mason’s case of Norrie Disease is one of the approximately 500 known worldwide.
He joined an Atlanta Area Council Cub Scout pack when he was 7 years old and says he still remembers his first campout.
“I had the same opportunities as everyone else,” he says. “I had a lot of people along the way who worked with me and made sure I knew everything I needed to know.”
Like most Scouts, he has fond memories of his pack’s Pinewood Derby.
“I did the cutting, he did the sanding,” says Brent. “Not that different from most families.”
When his Cub Scout days came to an end, there was no doubt that he would continue on into Scouts BSA.
“I had fallen in love with Cub Scouting,” says Mason. “When I visited the (Scouts BSA) troop, I was like, ‘OK, I already want to join.’”
That would be Troop 629 in Johns Creek, Georgia, where a handful of families from his pack were also headed.
“We knew some of the other boys and some of the leadership that would be migrating to that troop,” says Brent.
One of those leaders was Sutton, who had gotten to know the Myhands years earlier in Cub Scouts and would now have the opportunity to help guide Mason to the rank of Eagle.
Engaged in other activities, as well
Mason is a member of his school band. He plays several percussion instruments, including suspended symbols, tom drums, gong and bass drum.
He also likes to play videogames. There’s a whole gaming world for individuals who are blind — they just react to sounds instead of reacting to images on a screen.
For many tasks, he uses a notetaker called BrailleSense, an Android device that includes a GPS, compass, web browser and access to Google Docs.
For other tasks, he uses a computer with screen-reading software.
In recent years, Norrie Disease has begun to affect Mason’s hearing, but that problem has been solved by the use of hearing aids.
“My life was a little more challenging in some cases,” Mason says. “I had to learn all these skills just to progress through life. I had to learn how to read Braille when I was very little.
“I had to learn how to get through life as a blind person.”
One time at Scout camp, the Myhands were eating breakfast with a handful of younger Scouts who weren’t sure how they should act around Mason.
“They don’t always know what questions are on the table or are not on the table,” says Brent. “They asked me, ‘How does he tell the time on his watch?’ And I said, ‘Well, ask him!’
“I tell Mason in some regards, he’s an ambassador for all blind people when he interfaces with others.”
Setting a big goal
Brent himself was a Scout as a youth but didn’t make it to Eagle.
“I kick myself every day,” he says.
When Mason mentioned the possibility of trying to earn the highest rank in Scouts BSA, Brent didn’t hesitate.
“I was all for it,” says Brent. “I told him, ‘whatever we have to do.’”
As Mason worked his way through the requirements of the Scouts BSA program, Brent was always mindful of providing enough support to give his son a chance, but not enough that he was doing the work for him.
If Mason had a typo on some paperwork, Brent would point it out to him.
If Mason incorrectly answered a question as part of a rank or merit badge requirement, Brent would let it go.
“He heard me say several times, ‘I’m not the one earning Eagle Scout,’” says Brent.
It helped that the Myhands were surrounded by Scouts and families they had known for years.
“The other kids have all been supportive,” says Mason. “Some of them have known me for quite a while. They know how to be supportive of me.”
Twice, Mason led group discussions on the Disabilities Awareness merit badge.
One time, they played a game called Beep Ball, an adaptive version of baseball that features bases that beep, so players know where to run.
“The boys saw that he was really just one of the Scouts, just like them,” says Sutton.
Playing to their strengths
Mason regularly went hiking and camping with his troop.
Once, he went on a whitewater rafting trip.
“I continually kidded him about that over the years,” says Sutton. “For that one, once was enough, but he did it!”
He learned valuable leadership skills at National Youth Leadership Training (NYLT).
Just like the other Scouts, he helped prepare for outings, cook meals and clean up afterwards.
And then, there was his Eagle Scout project.
For his beneficiary, Mason chose Autrey Mill Nature Preserve & Heritage Center right in Johns Creek. They had worked with several Troop 629 Scouts before and were eager to work with Mason.
“We had to think about what played to our strengths,” says Brent. “We knew that building picnic tables by hand might not be for us.”
Representatives from Autrey Mill gave Mason a list of supplies they need to take care of the animals that live there. Mason recruited a handful of fellow Scouts and organized a donation drive.
Then, Mason led a group of Scouts in a cleanup effort of many of the site’s animal enclosures.
“Using a shovel to dig things out … that’s for the sighted guys,” Brent says. “Mason was hauling 40-pound bags of seed from point A to point B.”
He also helped spread hay into the enclosures that needed it.
“We’d just say, ‘Scatter more to the left; scatter more to the right,’” says Brent.
Like most everything else he’s attempted, earning the rank of Eagle turned out to be attainable for Mason, just like it is for any youth willing to invest time and hard work.
“Everything takes longer,” says Brent. “Learning how to put a tent up. … It probably took longer to learn those skills.
“I’m not this patient with everything, but for this one, I make an exception.”
Brent then turns to his son.
“Right, dude?” Brent asks. “Am I pretty patient?”
For the second time during our interview, Mason can’t help but smile.
“Yeah,” he says sheepishly. “You are.”