In many regards, 15-year-old Jake Cohen is a typical hobbyist, adding to his collection whenever he can and pouring over his cards to learn more about the players and teams they depict. However, there is one big difference between Jake and most collectors who spend hours reading and sorting their cards — he has been blind since the sixth grade.
Jake is a 13-year survivor of neuroblastoma, a form of cancer that typically afflicts children under five years of age. Due to various complications of his disease, Jake lost sight in his right eye when he was just two and in his left several years later. The honor-roll student at Legacy High School near Denver, CO, has not let life’s setbacks keep him from enjoying his favorite hobbies, though.
Jake began collecting football cards when he was 10 years old, honing in on the Green Bay Packers and his favorite player, quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He is also an ardent fan of the local Colorado Avalanche and has had the opportunity to meet several hockey players over the last five years.
Still, the Packers are Jake’s first sports love according to his mother, Mary, who shares that, “His dream is to go to Lambeau Field and meet Aaron.”
For Jake, the best part about the hobby is the lure of continuing to expand and improve his stockpile. “My favorite thing about collecting is adding to my collection meaning opening new cards or trading for better ones,” he says.
When he is not building his collection or working on his studies, you will likely find Jake practicing the drums, keyboard, and guitar. He hopes to one day parlay those varied artistic talents into a full-time career.
“My plans for the future are to make it into the music world and be a successful musician,” says Jake.
While Jake and his family hold out hope that medical advances like robotic eyes may someday restore his vision, he has identified an opportunity for card manufacturers to provide more immediate help to collectors with vision problems.
“I wish that card companies would create an app that would read both the back and front of the card, such as the player’s name, the set, the card number, etc.,” he explained.
Mary echoes those sentiments, noting that existing apps like TapTapSee are able to read some information to Jake, but they are sometimes slow and don’t pick up on all the nuances of cards that collectors want to know about. It would also be extremely helpful if the app could recognize faces, as Jake’s father, Dave, pointed out in a feature piece at CBSNews.com last year.
“Getting to know Jake makes me wish that the card manufacturers would give some consideration to either braille related sets or an app that would allow he and other visually challenged collectors to more fully enjoy this awesome hobby,” said Mike Fruitman, owner of Mike’s Stadium Sportscards in Aurora, CO, Jake’s local shop.
For now, Mary is Jake’s collecting companion, reading card copy to him and describing what the cards look like. Because he had some sight through his second-grade year, his mother’s verbal illustrations are enough for Jake to form solid mental images of his cards. Mary also helps her son organize his collection, and the family recently made a trip to Mike’s for a box break.
“I have only met Jake a few times, but I am already impressed by his knowledge and passion of the hobby,” Mike told us. “For someone to want to continue buying cards when they cannot appreciate them like most other collectors is truly incredible.
Jake took home a 2005 hobby box and scored a major prize — an Aaron Rodgers rookie card. Not surprisingly, Jake will tell you that “my favorite card of my whole collection is my Aaron Rodgers rookie card.”
It’s that thrill of the hunt and the prospect of continuing to build his collection that keeps Jake enthralled with the hobby, Mary says. Like many hobbyists, he looks forward to trading with other collectors and delving even more deeply into the hobby in the coming years.
While Jake concedes that being blind makes collecting hard at times, he plans to keep working toward a bigger and better collection with the assistance of his family. He credits his mother, father, and two older sisters for helping him to stay positive and on a path for success in the hobby and in life.