Overcoming barriers in sport as a blind person – My experiences

From a very young age I was always taught the benefits of sport, but I never realised how important it would become to me. I’ve been registered as severely sight impaired from birth, with a number of conditions including Nystagmus, with about 5-10% vision, and I learnt very quickly that there were extra barriers to accessing sports for VI people.  I’ve never let that stop me, and I’ve managed to reach an international level of competition in Para swimming, but there are still difficulties out there for VI athletes, in any sport.  

When I was in primary school I was never able to fully participate in the PE curriculum because of a lack of learning support provision at primary level, and even when I could join in, I was often left with the task of keeping score as I found it extremely difficult to keep up since most of the time we played hockey, netball and badminton. This carried on in secondary education as although I was given a learning support assistant to help me, large class numbers and quick paced lessons meant I did have to sit out at times, although I always tried to participate in some way.  However, I had taken swimming lessons since the age of 4, and some of my family were very keen runners, so I used to try and join weekend activity clubs in those sports.  In year 6 I also helped to represent my school in cricket at some local inter county competitions, as I was very fortunate enough to be given 1-1 sessions with a teacher and felt like giving myself a challenge. 

When I was 11, I went to a talent ID day with other SEN pupils from my local county and it was there that I was encouraged to join a swim team. I had always liked swimming but never really thought that I was any good.  A couple of years later and I was competing in able bodied competitions all around my county, and when I was 14 I got my Para swimming classification.  Since then I have entered and won medals in many Para swimming regional and national events as well as local ones with my swim club, including 4 county championships. Over the past couple of years I have competed in international competitions, including the Rio 2016 Paralympic trials and the 2017 British International Paraswimming championships.  I also became National gold medallist in my favourite events in 2016, the 50m and 100m freestyle, and National gold medallist in the 100m backstroke in 2015.

Swimming is probably one of the main driving forces behind my self-esteem, it has allowed me so many wonderful opportunities and I have met some fantastic people, even if I have had to make sacrifices along the way. I have also become much more independent and focused on what I want to achieve both in and outside of my sport, and am forever grateful to my parents too.  They always kept encouraging me through the horrible training sessions, and drove hours on weekends so I could compete. 

However, although the Para swimming world is inviting for VI swimmers, there are still difficulties. When I have received target sheets and results from national coaches they are often handwritten or in very small font, making it difficult for me to access them.  In addition, competition set up can mean that officials and technical equipment can be in the way on poolside, therefore sometimes it is difficult to make my way around them.  From talking with other VI athletes, it is also a common trend to find that in a lot of sports there is still a lack of awareness on the difficulties visually impaired athletes face; one of these particularly being when sorted into our race positions with other competitors, as organisers can be very vague in explanation or try to rush.  Sometimes it is a lot harder to be a Para athlete too, because we aren’t always taken seriously, and training can be more difficult when coaches do not understand your needs.  There were many times where I seriously questioned whether this was worth it, and whether I could actually achieve anything.  It can be a lot harder for athletes in Para sport to gain confidence, but you learn quickly that progress takes a while.   

Although these are challenges, improvements are being made, particularly in Swimming, and many more VI children are being encouraged to be involved with sport. Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a much better experience in Para Swimming, and over the next couple of years I hope to achieve even more as I go to university and compete there.  Even though there are people who will question your commitment to sport, who may not believe that you have much potential, the most important lesson I have learnt is to prove them wrong.  Do the unexpected; go to that extra practice, because it is really worth it.     

VioletKatie xx

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Saying goodbye to old romance

Hey!

I will warn everyone now that this post is not going to be a happy and cheerful one.  I am normally one of those people who always look for little lights at the end of the tunnel, and to hold onto hope, but for one of the first times in my life, I don’t know how to act, and my emotions are rather unstable.

I guess it’s fairly obvious from the title that this is a post where I say goodbye to a form of romance, to my first boyfriend to be precise.  I hope that by doing this, I can gain some understanding of my feelings, and get a grip on the overwhelming pain that has consumed my heart for the past few days.

Last Thursday I was at a residential weekend for visually impaired people, and on the first evening I was brought to a corner of the corridor, and he revealed his feelings which were that ultimately, we should break up.  I had known previously that he had been struggling to cope as it was a long distance relationship, and that it was unlikely we’d see each other much before university starts, but it still came as hard as a stab in the back.  What I didn’t know about the situation was that there was another girl involved, and that he’d had feelings for her for a while, and in the end felt unable to control his emotions anymore.  When I’d heard that they’d been dating for 2 weeks, my stomach tightened, I felt like a brick had knocked my skull and my defences broke.  He tried to apologise, and he said he felt bad, and I know he isn’t lying, at least I think I know.  In the last few days I’ve cried about 10 times, sometimes for 5 minutes, and sometimes for 20.  My closest friends know and so do my parents.  I cannot put into words how grateful I am for all the love and support they have given, both at the residential when it happened, and the days after.  They have helped soften the pain, and told me it wasn’t my fault.  My friends are dearly loved as they made me smile and laugh even in the midst of chaos.  I cannot blame myself, although it feels like I should.

For a couple of days I was convinced I wasn’t good enough and his new girlfriend was way better than me.  I believed that compared to this girl I was probably stupid and rude, ugly and annoying but I know that I can’t think that.  He may have lost a lot of my trust and it will take a long time to forgive him, but I think I can.  I can never send this message to him, especially not now because it hurts too much, and I have no words to say to him but I feel that I should say this anyway, to give myself some final closure.

I understand, deep down, why you wanted to break up, and I know you don’t blame me, and that in the end we had no control over the distance.  I know that in your mind, you didn’t want to hurt me that much and that you won’t be able to realise how much confidence I’ve lost because of the way we broke up.  I know that in the end I will be okay, and that I can move on and we can both be happy.  One day I would like you to say sorry, for keeping me in the dark, and lying about how you felt.  I hope you and your new girlfriend will be happy, because you do deserve happiness, and she is lucky to have you.  You were a kind, sweet and understanding boyfriend, although I feel betrayed and as if I’m second best, I will move on.  I don’t want to know why you chose her and couldn’t wait until we broke up before going out, but I know we all make mistakes.

Thank you for all our late night chats, the ones  on the phone and at each other’s houses.  Thank you for your morning texts and your ability to always make me laugh when I’d had a rubbish day.  I will always remember that hour we had alone in Paris, where we danced together and curled up near the window of your hotel room.  I still remember us holding our hands under the table so that your parents couldn’t see, and I am grateful for all the silly music we tried to make on your keyboard.  These are memories I will treasure, because I know you are a good person as a whole, I just happened to receive some of your bad sparks.

You made me really happy, and taught me what love could feel like, and I am glad I had the chance to be your girlfriend.  Please take care of your new one.

Love

Violetkatie xx