Kolby Garrison wins her age category for the 2010 Triad Idol with her guide dog, Sunny, by her side.

When Kolby Garrison took the stage at the Triad Idol finale in June, she reluctantly left her guide dog Sunny backstage. But when her name was announced, Sunny was by her side. Kolby took the check. Sunny checked out the flowers. And they basked in the applause.

The rising junior had never sung in a large-scale competition, until this year. She had sung in church. She’d sung the National Anthem before a car race. Her Triad Idol experience began when a former voice teacher called, told her about it and said, “You’re entering! Pick a song.”

She advanced through the early rounds by singing country Lady Antebellum songs. But for the finale, she chose “I Dreamed a Dream” from “Les Miserables.”

I know the campus by necessity.

The second contestant that June evening, she handed her mother the leash for Sunny, her guide dog for the last two years. “She’s my eyes, she’s my independence,” explains Garrison, who is blind. But there was concern Sunny might be a distraction.

At center stage, as she prepared to sing, she picked out her sister’s voice from the back corner of the Carolina Theatre. “Go, Kolby!” And she sang, the song building to a crescendo as the audience cheered.

When she and all the contestants heard the result at the end of the evening, she stood with Sunny by her side.

“The 2010 Triad Idol in the 19 and older category is …..”

Garrison heard her name. And then was showered with applause.

Winning the title capped off quite a year. She had a great experience being a resident assistant at North Spencer – she notes she was the first RA that UNCG has had who is blind.

She had a great internship with Murphy in the Morning on WKZL 107.5 FM. “It was a blast – so much fun.” Her work ranged from producing material for the show to keeping a log of topics and timing, from answering phones to maintaining the prize info. “My disability was not a factor. It did not come into play,” the communication studies major said. “Sometimes people pre-judge or make assumptions,” she added. That’s a mistake. Find out what the person can do.

Returning this year to regular student life – trading in her RA gig for other experiences – she’ll have a different residence hall this year, hence all new routes.

At the end of June, she came to campus to start planning and practicing her routes with Sunny. She says she is the captain, and Sunny is her pilot. People sometimes mistakenly try to pet a guide dog that’s in harness, she notes. There are certain guidelines of etiquette people are encouraged to follow. “She’s on the job,” Garrison says,” to keep me as safe as possible.”

Garrison has come to know the campus very well. Even a slight breeze between buildings or a little extra echo coming off a nearby residence hall helps her pinpoint her location.

“I know the campus by necessity.” When someone asks her friends where a building is, they turn to her for directions. “I’m the expert.”

See her award-winning performance at the 2010 Triad Idol.

Photography by Mike Micciche, Micciche Photography