Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Norrie Disease

As previously mentioned on my blog, I have a rare genetic condition called Norrie Disease which primarily affects the eyes. It is only meant to affect males, but somehow I defied the odds and was the first female in the world to be diagnosed with the condition. My older brother and 2 uncles also have/had Norrie Disease. Ever since I have had access to the internet I recall Googling, desperate to find out more information about this condition that has not only had a massive impact upon my life, but my family’s too. It is surprising to think in this day and age that even now it is difficult to find accurate and detailed information about Norrie Disease. At the moment I am waiting for genetic testing in order to try and fully understand how I have managed to present with the condition and I am also keen to learn how my genetic makeup will affect my children if I am lucky enough to have them one day. I am certain that I am a carrier of Norrie Disease, so it is something that could potentially impact on my family in generations to come. Norrie Disease has stolen my vision and it is beginning to steal my hearing. Whilst I am an individual who is intent on not allowing their disability stopping them from leading a fulfilling life, I can’t escape from the fact that I have Norrie Disease and always will.

Last Saturday, something exciting happened. It was the launch of The Norrie Disease Foundation. It is the first UK based charity setup to support those affected by Norrie Disease. Their aim is to connect Norrie Disease families as well as promote vital new research into the condition. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the launch. However, I am very grateful to those who have put in the hard work to make this much needed charity a reality. I am looking forward to seeing what The Norrie Disease Foundation can achieve and getting involved with the Norrie community.

To visit The Norrie Disease Foundation website, just click here.




Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Race Time Again

It is the eve of my outdoor season once again. When I sit back and think about how long I have been involved in athletics, I am surprised that I haven’t given up on it yet. There are a lot of things that have happened in the sport that make me want to throw in the towel. The one element that stops me is the fact that I know I have not reached my full potential. I desperately want to represent Great Britain at a championships. I can’t believe it is nearly three years since I got the opportunity to compete for England at the Commonwealths. Paralympic sport moves so fast it is difficult to know whether I will reach the necessary standard to fulfil my goal. However, I intend on training week in week out for the foreseeable future. Training dominates my life. At times it is tough to try and justify the commitment when I’m not exactly winning medals or breaking records. I could probably be successful if I took up another sport, but I love to run, I love to sprint, I love athletics in general.

I had a positive indoor season, reducing my 60m PB from 8.77 to 8.63. Since last winter I have lost about ten pounds in body weight, but I am managing to lift heavier than I have ever done in the gym before. I have four months of racing ahead of me with the only target being to run as fast as I can. I fully expect to break my 100m PB of 13.61. Perhaps not instantly, but it will happen in the coming months.

There is a new rule for T11 athletes, which now requires us to wear eye patches as well as blacked out shades in races to reduce cheating. This is not a problem for me other than sourcing some eye patches since I can’t see anything with my shades on anyway. Even without shades I can’t see anything when I run. Yes I have light perception in my left eye, but when moving at speed my eye fails to detect anything and blacks out. In some ways I am pleased that the IPC recognises that there is a problem with my classification. It now has athletes who have useful vision and who are able to walk, run and train unaided. Originally I thought the most vision you were allowed to have in the T11 classification was light perception. I am not sure what the limits are now. All I know is if that you are able to train unaided then you have an advantage over me even if you are blindfolded in a race. This is because you are able to:

Train without a guide thus giving you more feeling and chance to develop control over your body
Learn new drills/exercises visually making them easier for you to pick up and enhance your running ability
Generally be able to do drills/exercises that simply aren’t safe or feasible for a totally blind athlete to do, again increasing your running ability

Racing with a blindfold is not scary once you master the fear and trust your guide runner. Put Usain Bolt in a blindfold and I am certain he would still be able to run under ten seconds, as he has visually learnt the art of running and doesn’t need to see in order to implement his technique. The only trouble would be finding a guide runner fast enough for him! Whilst I feel disadvantaged in my classification at the moment, I accept that nobody is cheating under the current rules. If a classifier has deemed somebody to be a T11 then they are a T11 and there is nothing I can do about it. It is just unlucky for me that I am at the more severe end of my classification. I just feel it is important to write down my views. The classification system is there to make para-sport as fair as possible and it unfortunately is never going to satisfy everybody as no two people have exactly the same disability.

All of that aside, I am hoping to have a good season. I am looking forward to seeing how fast I can go…

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Fine At Nine

Last month Calvin turned nine years old. In theory this means that he has entered the final year of his working life as my Guide Dog since it is well-known that Guide Dogs don’t tend to work beyond the age of ten. However, I just don’t think he is ready to retire. I have spent the last year analysing his work and general well-being. He hasn’t changed a tiny bit. He still walks at a nice speed, has a spring in his step as he trots along and is always excited to have his harness put on and come out with me. Personally, as it stands at present, it really wouldn’t be in Calvin’s best interest to retire. Being a Guide Dog is all that Calvin has known and for the last seven and a half years he has been my partner in crime. Being separated and introducing a new dog into our world when Calvin is still keen to work makes no sense to me. I understand that it is important for Guide Dogs to have the opportunity to be regular dogs for a period in their lives, but Calvin already experiences ‘normal’ dog life anyway, which may have contributed to him still enjoying his work. Not only does he get free-runs, he is often walked on his lead too.

It could be argued that I am being selfish for wanting Calvin to work beyond his years. I admit that I am dreading the day Calvin says no more. Whilst Calvin has caused me a million and one stressful moments, he has given me a level of independence, confidence and happiness that I never had as a cane user. We know so many routes. Calvin has learnt everything with me. Prior to him, I could walk around the block at a push. Now I can effortlessly walk back to my parents two and a half miles away. It is going to take a lot of hard work teaching a new dog everything Calvin and I know.

I keep asking myself do I really want another dog? Could I bond with another dog? Could I love another dog? It reminds me of starting a new relationship. Calvin is going to my parents when he retires because I can’t imagine not having him in my life. However, can you really properly move on to a new relationship when you still have your ex in your life? Is it fair on you or your future partner? Ordinarily I would say no. Calvin is like my first love. He will always be special to me because he is my first everything. Nevertheless, I know deep down that we can’t be a partnership forever and in the long-term it is best for the both of us to move on. It will break my heart when Calvin retires. Tears will be shed. Then I will brush myself off and start a new relationship. It won’t be the same as the one I have had with Calvin, but hopefully it will be as pleasant and as long lasting.

In the meantime I intend on enjoying every single moment with my bestest boy in the whole wide world!

Thursday, 2 March 2017

5 Star Reads

Since getting my iPhone last year, I now rate every book I read on my Good Reads app as soon as I have finished it. It is nice to keep a log of what I have read, see what other people read and check out reviews. In honour of World Book Day I have listed 15 books I have read and rated 5 out of 5 stars on Good Reads. They are in no particular order, but cover genres such as Thriller, Young Adult, Dystopia, Romance and even Science Fiction. I highly recommend every single novel!

1. The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
2. I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
3. Beside Myself by Ann Morgan
4. Never Say Goodbye by Susan Lewis
5. Invisible Girl by Kate Maryon
6. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
7. Behind Closed Doors by B A Paris
8. Damaged by Cathy Glass
9. Thunder Dog by Michael Hingson
10. My Best Friend’s Girl by Dorothy Koomson
11. Try Not To Breathe by Holly Seddon
12. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
13. If You Could See Me Now by Cecelia Ahern
14. The Sisters by Claire Douglas
15. While My Eyes Were Closed by Linda Green

Happy Reading!

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Traveleyes

Traveleyes is a company that organises group holidays for not only visually impaired people, but sighted travellers too. Their slogan is ‘share the adventure’. To make it enticing for both visually impaired and sighted travellers they have two main selling points. If you are visually impaired, you can book on to a holiday as an individual with the knowledge that you will be provided with sighted assistance throughout your trip and therefore have the opportunity to explore the world independently, a task that would otherwise be quite challenging or near impossible. If you are sighted, you can book on to a holiday at a substantially discounted rate, sometimes up to 50% less than what a visually impaired traveller is required to pay. It is then expected that you are prepared to ‘lend your eyes’ to the visually impaired participants throughout the trip. Ultimately, everyone gets to discover a destination with likeminded people.

Traveleyes have been on my radar for some time. I have been lucky enough to travel to lots of countries over the years, but when I holiday with my family we rarely go on organised excursions opting instead to stay around the hotel or self-explore. This has always been fine and something I plan on continuing to do. However, I also want to experience the world in a more adventurous manner. So last year when I saw Traveleyes release their holiday to The Gambia and one of the tour highlights was seeing monkeys in the wild (my favourite animal), I was immediately interested.

The thought process had to be quite quick since Traveleyes always emphasise how popular their holidays are at the bottom of their promotional emails and I know through word of mouth that places get snapped up pretty fast. So, within less than 24hrs of the trip being advertised, I decided that I definitely wanted to go and to my surprise my family were keen to come too, making us two sighted and two visually impaired travellers. It was the weekend so I registered our interest through the website and found out on the Monday that the trip was already fully booked, but we would be placed on a waiting list. I honestly couldn’t believe at just how speedily the places did go. The following week we were informed that they had increased the number of places available due to popular demand and we could now go. A deposit was paid with the full balance due 12 weeks prior to our departure date.

Right now, I should be boarding the plane to The Gambia. Only I am clearly sat at home writing this. For months I have been looking forward to visiting a new country, experiencing its wildlife and culture and generally getting some winter sun. Hence, I was deeply disappointed when The Gambia hit national news a few weeks ago when the former Prime Minister refused to step down and military action was being threatened. At the time I felt a little selfish that my main concern was worrying about whether or not my holiday would be cancelled and whether or not I would receive a refund when hundreds of people were fleeing their homes in fear that a war would break out in their country.

Traveleyes were prompt at releasing a statement regarding the trip when the news first broke and assured us that our safety was their main priority. The holiday wasn’t cancelled immediately. Despite the Foreign Office declaring it is now safe to travel to The Gambia, Traveleyes were advised by their suppliers to cancel. This was only last week and already we have a full refund, which softens the blow a little.

I was hoping to blog about travelling with a company like Traveleyes, but it looks like it will have to wait for another day. If you would like more information about Traveleyes, you can visit their website here.



Saturday, 31 December 2016

The Year That Was

It is New Year’s Eve again and once more I am in a pair of Disney pyjamas reflecting on the year that was. Perhaps some things are destined never to change. However, each year we face the unknown and learn that little bit more about ourselves, other people and life in general…

2016
This year has taught me so much about myself. I know at the beginning of the year I was feeling quite low. When reading my blog back, I was surprised that a black cloud hung over my writing as well. It may not have been apparent to a casual reader, but knowing myself better than anyone, I sensed the lack of sparkle and drive in my posts. It wasn’t until the summer that I noticed a marked difference. It was as if I had a giant jigsaw puzzle in January with no idea where to start, then all of a sudden come July, I didn’t find one corner piece, but all of the corner pieces and everything just started to fit together.

July was a poignant month. Birthday celebrations with true friends, a long awaited PB over 100m, racing in GB kit in front of 50.000 people at the London Anniversary Games and training for a job that I not only love because it is varied and stimulating, but that fits perfectly into my lifestyle. These four instances have made the second half of 2016 worth living and I mean that whole heartedly. As this year draws to a close, I am feeling genuinely positive about 2017. I have discovered I am a strong person. I may get knocked down, but there is no way that I am staying there forever.

A couple of other bits to note about the year: I joined the 21st century and got an iPhone! How I ever managed to function without one before, I will never know. I also got a Fitbit, technology may just be a wonderful thing after all. The final mention needs to go to my partner in crime, Calvin. He decided to wrap 2016 up in memorable fashion by spewing up in my bedroom whilst I was out at the gym earlier. Demonstrating his Labrador logic, he helpfully re-consumed 95% of the contents! Yuck!

2017
It hasn’t even started yet, but already I am feeling a little smug about the year ahead. It is going to be full of new adventures and achievements of that I am certain. Now I have started that jigsaw puzzle, I need to finish it. I was listening to my beloved Westlife the other day and a lyric grabbed my attention and is going to be my ethos for the year ahead. ‘If you believe the wonder of a fairy tale, you can take the future, even if you fail’.

If you are reading this, thank you. Thank you for taking an interest in my life. I hope 2017 provides you with a happy ever after…

Monday, 28 November 2016

Lucky 7

Calvin and I have been a partnership for seven years this month. I cannot express enough how incredibly lucky I feel to have him as not only my Guide Dog, but best friend and housemate. We all know that Calvin isn’t a paw perfect worker, yet he does some outstanding work when I most need him to. I can rely on Calvin to help me out at times where I am too proud to call my trusty parents for assistance when I have somehow managed to lose my way.

Having just light perception in my left eye makes navigating tough. I can’t see shapes, colours or even shadows. If I’m out at night, I may see a flash of light from a car’s headlight or if I’m looking really hard the light on a lamppost. People with residual vision are lucky. To be able to see a building as a blob or a white splodge signalling a door is definitely useful and shouldn’t be taken for granted. To be able to have some visual stimulation as you walk enables you to keep a focus. All I have are my ears, nose, feet and Calvin the dog who finds leaves wondrous and spits out rotten apples in exchange for a treat at our front door. My point is guiding someone with no useful vision is a much harder job than guiding someone who can see even a tiny little bit. Calvin has managed to do this demanding task for seven whole years, longer than some Guide Dogs manage to work for and he is showing no signs of slowing down. I live in awe of his abilities, understanding and affection.

Most days of the week I participate in some sort of sporting activity. This could be a simple swim, exercise class, Goalball, track or gym session. Either way, I spend a lot of my time feeling not just tired, but exhausted from the constant exertion. The combination of fatigue and having no useful vision often results in me switching off as I walk with Calvin. I sometimes cross roads without realising or drift round a corner taking me off route. By the time I have regained a focus, I can feel hopelessly lost even if I am actually only a short distance from where I need to be. Sometimes my surroundings don’t feel or sound quite right and I accidently encourage Calvin to go off route. It is a frequent nightmare and I kick myself every time I do it. Making these minor and major mistakes come back to haunt me too, as Calvin remembers them and assumes I may want to re-visit the places we have been.

I rarely leave my house without my Trekker Breeze, so when I do get lost I can attempt to find my way again. However, there have been times where the Breeze is not much help. For example, earlier this year when I pressed the ‘where am I’ button, it announced that I was on the M1 motorway! A feeling of utter panic quickly followed even though there was no way that I had stumbled on to the motorway. The Breeze wasn’t being completely inaccurate as I was near a motorway bridge that runs very noisily above my head on one of my regular routes causing me to feel disorientated each time I am near it. It blocks my hearing, which I rely heavily on for spatial awareness.

Whilst I am trying to work out how best to proceed, Calvin takes the opportunity to munch on some nearby grass. Nobody is around and I need to get to an appointment. I literally didn’t know whether to turn left or right. Having a cautious feel round with my feet and hands I come across some sort of railing, which is either blocking us from the pavement or protecting us from the very busy road. I am totally confused, tired and stressed, yet I know I can’t stand there forever. I can feel Calvin tugging at the lead as he stretches to chew on more grass. They say dogs are meant to recognise when a person is distressed. At this moment in time, mine appeared completely oblivious. Irritated by Calvin’s lack of empathy, I snapped at him to find the way and well that’s exactly what he did. I couldn’t be sure that he was taking me the right way, but at least we were moving. He guided me to a crossing, crossed without stopping in turn making cars horn crazily at me. The extra noise really wasn’t helpful. After removing my heart from my mouth, I made Calvin ensure he found the crossing box for me prior to crossing the next road, as we were now in the middle with cars racing in front, behind and above us. I am not sure, but I think we crossed a few more roads to make it across this dual carriage way. Why and how we were on the other side I still can’t work out, but we had never crossed over at this point before. Once over the other side, Calvin took a right with no instruction from me and shortly after the Breeze announced a road I recognised. Interestingly, Calvin was heading towards the location where my appointment was rather than turning left, which I now realised would have taken us back home.

On that day and many other similar days, Calvin is my hero. When he is lying on his back with his paws in the air like he just doesn’t care, clutching a ball as well as a soft toy in his mouth, I find myself thinking how does this dog do it. He acts like a muppet one minute then does something amazing the next. Without consciously teaching him, Calvin understands so many words and has learnt how to communicate with me in return. It is like we have a telepathic connection or I have developed a mothers instinct.

As I said before, I am extremely lucky to have Calvin as not only my Guide Dog, but best friend and housemate. I sincerely hope we make it to eight great years by which time he will be nearly ten, the age I have been told that they definitely want Calvin retired by. However, if he is healthy and willing to work, I’m going to fight to keep him as my Guide Dog for as long as possible.