Sarah Ehrenfried wasn’t supposed to live past the age of two. Now at the age of 12, Sarah is a straight-A student who loves reading, going to school, and playing video games. One of Sarah’s favorite games is Pokemon GO, but she was diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy called congenital fiber type disproportion (CFTD) that makes it impossible for her to walk or even hold her head up for long periods of time. Sarah’s muscular dystrophy means she has to use a tracheostomy tube to help her breathe, and she also relies on a ventilator and a wheelchair. As one might imagine, Sarah’s disability may make a game like Pokemon GO a bit more difficult to play, but as Sarah herself puts it, “I am wheelchair-bound, but that doesn’t slow me down.”
A truly dedicated Pokemon GO player, Sarah recently reached level 32, has caught powerful Pokemon like a 3,158 CP Dragonite, and has been playing the game since it first launched in June of 2016, when her overnight nursing staff introduced her to it. Since beginning her journey as a Pokemon trainer, Sarah has captured countless Pokemon, including legendary Pokemon like Suicune.
Sarah participates in legendary raids on a regular basis, sometimes with the same group of community members. Sarah met these individuals through Pokemon GO, and now describes them as “really good friends.” According to Sarah, these community members have taught her things about the game that she had no idea about, and have given her helpful hints during raid battles. They also make sure to tag her through Discord when a raid is happening near her house so that she can join in on the battle.
On days when it’s cold, it can be dangerous for Sarah to spend too much time outside due to her trach. Exposing her trach to cold weather can make Sarah’s asthma flare up, so sometimes she has to stay in the van with her mom when playing the game. During the legendary raid battle where she caught Suicune, members of the Pokemon GO community made sure to stand closer to Sarah’s van to better communicate with her and coordinate their efforts to defeat it.
While she sometimes has to stay in her van to avoid the cold weather or stay on the couch if her joints are hurting especially bad, Sarah doesn’t let her disability keep her from playing Pokemon GO every day. Typically, Sarah plays the game up to two hours, and is able to participate in any area that is wheelchair accessible. In fact, the biggest hurdle to Sarah’s Pokemon GO playing has not been her disability, but the lack of content in rural areas.
Before moving to a larger city, Sarah lived in a small town in southwest Iowa. Sarah could only catch Pokemon that spawned near her house, as there weren’t many wheelchair accessible areas in her town. Combine this with the lack of Pokemon in rural areas, and Sarah’s ability to progress in Pokemon GO was greatly hindered by Niantic’s refusal to better populate rural areas with Pokemon and PokeStops.
According to Sarah, there are other ways Niantic can improve the Pokemon GO experience. One thing she mentioned was releasing new Pokemon on a more regular basis. It’s true that Niantic has been slow to introduce new Pokemon to the game, with legendary Pokemon not showing up until a year after its release. There are still first generation Pokemon missing from the Pokemon GO Pokedex, as well as a slew of second generation Pokemon and the vast majority of gen 3 Pokemon. And since Sarah’s favorite Pokemon is Primarina from Pokemon Sun and Moon, it’s no surprise that she wants more Pokemon added to the game.
Another area that Sarah feels needs to be addressed is spoofers. For the uninitiated, spoofers are Pokemon GO cheaters that access PokeStops, gyms, and raids without actually traveling to them. In Sarah’s experience, spoofers have sometimes prevented people from participating in raids, and so it would be nice if Niantic did more to stop spoofers from playing the game.
Spoofers sometimes ruin Sarah’s Pokemon GO experience, but that hasn’t stopped her from making plenty of memories playing the game. Her favorite Pokemon GO memory is when she participated in her first legendary raid, where over 60 people showed up to try to catch the legendary bird Moltres. This legendary raid was when Sarah started to meet her regular raiding group of community members, and noticed the widespread appeal of Pokemon GO. It was at this first legendary raid that Sarah met a retired couple in their 70s that have decided to spend some of their twilight years playing the popular mobile game. As we have seen with the stories of Lao Xiao and 84-year-old Mdm Tan Nai Keow from Singapore, Pokemon GO truly does appeal to people of all ages.
Pokemon GO‘s ability to appeal to all ages as well as its tendency to bring people together make it a special game, despite its technical issues or gameplay flaws. However, there have also been some reports of the game leading people to danger, like people being robbed at PokeStops or literally walking off cliffs. Sarah and her raid group once encountered a suspicious character who was watching them from a nearby creek. The man made Sarah feel uncomfortable, but she joked about it with one of her teammates. “I told one of the people I was raiding with, ‘If the guy comes out, you slow him down and I’ll run them over with my wheelchair.”
Pokemon GO may very well be the game that takes up the most of Sarah’s leisure time, but she has other interests as well. Sarah is a self-professed huge Harry Potter fan, and also enjoys Marvel and DC movies. She likes TV shows like Stranger Things, though the recently released Stranger Things mobile game is unlikely to take her away from Pokemon GO for too long.
Sarah Ehrenfreid wasn’t supposed to live past the age of two. Now at the age of 12, she is well on her way to becoming a bonafide Pokemon master. While Sarah’s muscular dystrophy may sometimes keep her indoors, she still plans on playing Pokemon GO every day for the foreseeable future. Besides playing plenty of Pokemon GO, Sarah’s future may also include a job at Niantic, as she is currently learning how to code video games.
“My body might prove challenging to me, but my brain loves a challenge,” Sarah said. “I don’t think anything can keep me from playing Pokemon GO!”
Pokemon GO is available now for iOS and Android mobile devices.