Gabby Kiewe Helping Blind Lacrosse Players with Loud Lax
Fri Apr 17 2020 | Kenny DeJohn | Fuel
Gabby Kiewe was anxious the entire 5-hour drive. What started as an idea turned into a high school engineering project and then a passion. It was soon to be tested in person, and the nerves had set in.
“I was so nervous thinking it was going to fail,” said Kiewe, a 17-year-old junior at Schecter School in Williston Park, Long Island.
Kiewe (pronounced KEY-VA), a goalie who plays for the Portledge School because her high school doesn’t have lacrosse, had developed sensors to help the visually impaired play the sport she cherishes.
By coring and cutting in half a soft lacrosse ball — not a standard one, to ensure nobody got hurt — Kiewe was able to embed a radio. She then attached a radio to the net. Based on the strength of the frequency and series of beeps, visually impaired players could tell where the ball was relative to the net. It made a different sound when someone scored.
Naturally, she calls it Loud Lax.
“Right now, I’m working on getting a patent and potentially a trademark on the name Loud Lax. The patent is not to make money off it, it’s to protect the product,” said Kiewe, who stressed that she doesn’t want to see a dime off this project. “I’m in the early stages of that. I don’t even know where to start with companies to reach out to, but I’m gladly taking suggestions.”
Above all, Kiewe wants to make this product — when it’s fully ready — accessible to those who can’t ordinarily play the game. Her goal is to spread lacrosse to anyone with the urge to play.
At a February clinic hosted by Parkville Adaptive Lacrosse at The Maryland School for the Blind in Nottingham, Md., Kiewe saw her prototype in action. Marty Delaney, the director of Adaptive Lacrosse, agreed with Kiewe’s assessment that the ball and goal sensor are still in their early stages of development but added that the response was positive.
“I think the athletes responded well to it,” Delaney said. “We just had a great response to the whole evening.”
To ensure the product was truly working, Kiewe said she would move the net without telling the players.
“They were still able to find the net and score,” she said.
Delaney said Kiewe is not the first person with the idea to develop this type of ball. He said Rod Boudreaux, who died Feb. 18 after a long battle with an illness, used a SwaxLax ball for his sensor in 2019.
Kiewe is believed to be the first person to develop a goal sensor, however, taking inspiration from Beep Baseball and Goalball, a soccer game for visually impaired athletes.
“It’s about allowing and giving kids more opportunities to play.”
Kiewe and her mother, Jill, have a motto.
“No fun, we’re done.”
It’s a lesson that applies to anything in life, but for Kiewe, it means that as long as lacrosse and her work on Loud Lax bring her joy, she’ll stick with them. That February clinic provided instant gratification to them both.
“I told her when we were driving home that it felt like she had saved the winning shot,” Jill Kiewe said. “We were on a high coming home from it.”
First introduced to lacrosse at a sleepaway camp, Gabby Kiewe quickly fell in love with the sport. Her hometown of Roslyn, N.Y., isn’t necessarily a lacrosse hotspot, but her mother — who played softball and tennis growing up — did whatever she could to support her daughter.
When she got older, Kiewe began volunteering with Knights Lacrosse, an organization run by her goalie coach, Mike Nelson. The program pairs high school athletes with students with disabilities to teach lacrosse.
“It’s about allowing and giving kids more opportunities to play,” Kiewe said.
That message was never lost on Kiewe, who decided to do more than just volunteer. The Schecter School offers an engineering program for freshmen and sophomores who qualify that introduce the basics of coding, soldering and circuitry. That put Kiewe on track to take a Science Research course as a junior, allowing her to create something tangible out of her many ideas.
“I am amazed by her ingenuity,” her mother said. “Her stick-to-itiveness and her charity, her want to give back. The drive to do those things really amaze me. Her maturity level to get it done.
“I barely got through wood shop. This is a whole other level of technique and ability that she was able to take the skills she learned in engineering together with lacrosse and hopefully help an underserved population.”
Deborah Lorber, who has taught Kiewe since ninth grade, said she was “thrilled” with the reception the product got from initial testing. While many of her students design truly unique inventions, this project has the potential for more practical use, she said.
“I was very impressed with how she really got the project functioning,” Lorber said. “I was not sure she was going to pull it off completely. This was a difficult challenge. She had to use technology that I’d certainly never seen before. There was a lot of independent research.”
She said this required advanced coding, much more than can be found on coding forums online.
“She’s a special kid,” Lorber said. “This is very near and dear to her heart.”