Sunday, 19 June 2016

Be Part of the Journey

I have started my first crowd funding campaign in order to raise £500 to help pay for physio/sports massage costs. A part of me feels a bit cheeky asking for people to help support my athletics career, but I feel £500 isn’t too much of a ridiculous amount. Anyone who reads this blog knows how much athletics means to me and how I constantly strive to achieve my dreams. In an ideal world I wouldn’t have to seek support, but since I have to self-fund my athletics career there is no other way around it. Working part-time last year severely affected my health and I would turn up to training like a zombie. Focusing purely on my athletics this year has already enabled me to run better than I have ever done before. On Wednesday I dipped under fourteen seconds for the first time on a first run in far from pleasant conditions.

On Tuesday I watched my rivals compete at the European Championships and it filled me with motivation. There’s nothing I want more than to line up against them in two years time and fight for a medal. Based on my current form, I would have just missed out on the final by a tenth of a second (remembering the top four make the final in T11 events). Although it could be argued if I was in thirty degree heat on a mondo track, I could have challenged for a place. I’m so close yet so far from representing GB.

There are twenty-six days remaining on my crowd funding page and to date I have raised a respectable £280, which I’m extremely grateful for. However, if I don’t hit the £500 target in the time zone, I will receive absolutely nothing. There are some rewards on offer if you do donate. If you are feeling generous or know someone who is generous and would like to be part of helping a girl not only fulfil her dreams, but her potential, then check out my page here.

Athletics is my life. For me it makes being blind feel bearable, enjoyable and inconsequential.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Web Accessibility Campaign

A while back I was asked to guest blog for People for Research and their web accessibility campaign. They have now published my post. To read it just click here.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Gold Coast 2018

The Gold Coast will hold the next Commonwealth Games in 2018. Yesterday I was saddened to learn that there will be no Women’s T11/12 100m this time and in fact no female visually impaired athletics events at all. The Games boast that they will have more para-events than ever before with some classifications having an increased number of events they can participate in, which is great news for them. However, other classifications have been excluded altogether. Only a select number of para-events are included in the main competition and I guess in one respect I was very lucky to have had the opportunity to compete at the last Commonwealths in Glasgow. Nevertheless, on the eve of my 2016 outdoor season, I can’t help feeling disappointed. The Commonwealths was an amazing experience and one that I would have liked to have repeated. Not only for the enjoyment, but to see if I could have improved on my previous performance.

Looking ahead now, my focus has to be on the European Championships. Perhaps not for this year as selection is on Monday 16 May, which is very soon and leaves little opportunity for me to qualify. The next Europeans will be in 2018. I need to have two strong seasons prior to the championships to prove my capability. I have had the chance to represent England, but I have always dreamed of representing Great Britain too.

So far this year I have had a couple of promising run outs over 60m indoors. Tomorrow will be the earliest I have ever started my outdoor season. This provides plenty of races to look forward to between now and August. The main aim this year is to PB since I haven’t managed to do so since 2013. I have had a full winter, receiving regular treatment and I am feeling positive that this year will be one of progression.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Inspiring Partnerships

Recently, I watched a video about visually impaired skier Millie Knight and the relationship she has with her coach/guide Euan Bennet. The video was produced by The Bank of Ireland UK and is part of their Inspiring Partnerships campaign. Alongside the clip The Bank of Ireland UK suggests that there are six key ingredients needed for partnerships to flourish. These are: trust, communication, solving problems, mutual respect, common purpose and complementary skills. On Sunday 10 April I will begin my fifth outdoor season with my current Guide Runner Ryan Asquith. Motivated by The Bank of Ireland UK campaign, I thought it would be a good opportunity to analyse my partnership with Ryan based on the essential criteria above. Fingers crossed that it will reveal that we have a thriving partnership, which in turn will lead to some promising performances in this Paralympic year.

For some unknown reason I have no reservations when it comes to putting my trust in man or dog. Despite only having light perception in my left eye, I find running with a guide at full speed down the track one of the most exhilarating experiences. This is probably why I choose to compete over 100m rather than plodding along in a marathon. I have every faith in Ryan that he will push me to my limit, not cross the line before me (which would result in disqualification in a race) and alert me when to stop in good time. In training, I find it even more thrilling when I am able to run freely at speed, although the risk is higher as I am not always able to keep in a straight line and the track is littered with dangers, such as hurdles and cones. Nevertheless, whilst Ryan may not be attached to me and able to pull me out of harm’s way, I trust that he has a firm eye on me at all times and will instruct me where necessary. Naturally, we have had a couple of incidents, but there is never time to dwell or doubt. Accidents happen, you move on. If I don’t put my trust in Ryan then he is unable to help me reach and surpass my goals.

Both on and off the track, communication is vital for our partnership to succeed. From planning training sessions to race day. Prior to a race it is critical that both Ryan and I are honest about how we are feeling. If either of us have any misgivings that we don’t share then it is likely that we will fail before we have started. However, Ryan usually tells me afterwards if he was nervous before a competition in order to avoid increasing my own butterflies. During a race the communication is completely one sided. I say absolutely nothing, yet expect Ryan to speak to me all of the way down the track. He will provide me with important cues, such as when to change phases, distance run and body positioning as well as generally shout at me... with encouragement of course.

Solving Problems
All athletes encounter problems that require solving and in a way I am lucky to always have at least one extra person to help me resolve them. Although, sometimes the problem could be the person who is meant to help you. I would say Ryan and I both have fairly fiery personalities hence when issues arise we will discuss them in a pretty blunt manner. The advantage of this is that neither of us beat around the bush meaning we can get to the bottom of a dilemma more quickly without either of us being offended by the other’s lack of tact. I’m sure on-lookers are mortified by our exchanges, but it works for us and that is all that matters.

Mutual Respect
Often in society you hear of people with a disability being treated less equally to their non-disabled counter parts. Similarly, I have observed disabled people treating non-disabled people like slaves constantly demanding rather than kindly requesting assistance. Admittedly, it is difficult to find a balance when you do need a lot of help. Ryan and I train together four times per week for up to three hours at a time. There is no way that our relationship would work if either of us were disrespectful to the other considering the amount of hours we have to spend in each other’s company. Thankfully, Ryan is never patronising towards me and I hope that I’m not too needy. Ryan is not just my Guide Runner, he has become a friend. He even says himself that we are like family.

Common Purpose
Selfishly, I do athletics because I want to be the best I can. I do it for me, myself and I. Luckily for me, Ryan does athletics because he wants me to be the best I can. We both strive to represent our country. After competing at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games we both agreed that we are keen to attend another major championships. The experience was phenomenal. Therefore, every training session we do is to achieve that ambition.

Complementary Skills
Ryan has the knowledge and the working eyes. I have the potential and determination. Together we have the ability to be successful.

To watch Millie’s video just click here. For more inspiring partnerships, follow @Bankofirelanduk and #InspiringPartnerships on Twitter.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016


People always ask at what age do they retire? My answer is always between the ages of eight and ten. I can’t believe that Calvin, my Guide Dog has turned eight. We really have entered the final stages of our partnership. Although on his birthday, you wouldn’t have thought it as he was the most playful and energetic he has been in a long time. After the thousandth time of throwing his ball or toy my enthusiasm was wavering ever so slightly. Nevertheless, it was his birthday so I heroically persevered and kept launching until he eventually got bored. At times like that it is easy to forget that he’s nearing retirement.

We have our annual visit from Guide Dogs on 6 April and I’m hopeful that they will authorise for him to work for another year. The only concern health wise at the moment are his joints. Calvin’s bones click constantly as he runs up and down the stairs. On occasion if he’s been resting for a while his back legs stiffen too. Not that this bothers him, but it is a little jaw dropping when I hear him slip down a step as he attempts to charge up to the landing. All credit to him he powers it through. The vets started him on some joint supplements and I’m fairly sure they made a difference after about a week. Less clicking and no stair scares for a while now. The vet was surprised that they have had such a dramatic influence, but I’m convinced it’s not in my head. Yes, they are definitely working, on cue Calvin has come to join me upstairs to see what I’m up to and I didn’t hear a single click.

I would write more, only Calvin is nudging me to play, so I best go and entertain and make the most of his company whilst I still can.

The Calvin8r: Young at heart, works hard, plays harder.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Big Brother

Last Tuesday my brother turned thirty and my family and I spent three nights in Lanzarote to celebrate. I don’t think I’ve ever properly blogged about my brother before. Like me, he has Norrie’s Disease (also known as Norrie Disease), which is a rare genetic condition that primarily affects the eyes. However, whilst I gradually lost my sight, my brother has congenital blindness accompanied with severe learning difficulties. I know we are all individuals, but I have never met anyone similar to my brother before. His additional needs are quite unique.

In some ways he is quite able, as he can walk and is continent. These are two abilities my family and I are very grateful for. However, his comprehension and communication skills are extremely limited. He definitely understands more than he can express though. For example, my brother is unable to tell you his feelings. He can’t say if he’s feeling happy, sad or is in pain. Yet, he knows the words for a million and one food types and remembers the words to songs. Although, his renditions aren’t always accurate. They are making me smile just thinking about them. He can count to ten sometimes likewise if you ask him his name, age or where he lives he may answer correctly. Mostly, he repeats what you say instead. When my brother was younger it was a miracle if he spoke at all and when his voice broke it obviously confused him and he was quiet for a long time afterwards. He makes noises that we know means he’s happy, but scares the public as he is loud with it. Generally, when my brother speaks now he shouts and when he shouts he repeats himself over and over again. This can be really challenging. In more recent years he has become a little aggressive both to himself and others. At his worst he has drawn blood and lashed out. I think the worst that has happened to me is being grabbed in a head lock, pinched, scratched, generally grabbed and tapped very hard. Personally, even though I can’t see the danger coming, I’m pretty good at getting my brother to release me or move swiftly far enough away so I’m out of arms length since he can’t see to get up and chase me. When we get reports back that he’s injured one of his carers, I often wonder how they let it happen to themselves since they are professionally trained. If I can wriggle my way out of harm, how are they getting chunks of their hair pulled out?!

My brother has high energy levels and requires little sleep. He stays up late entertaining himself in his bedroom by walking around feeling, smelling and throwing things. He knows his way around my parents house unaided and goes to the toilet if he needs it. Nevertheless, he sometimes goes for no particular reason and then needs to be sorted out afterwards. He can’t wash, dress or properly feed himself. If he eats by himself with his hands he will eat at a hundred miles an hour. He needs fulltime care, which is tough on my parents especially now they are getting older. He is a strong fully grown man.

He has an interesting relationship with Calvin. I hadn’t had Calvin long when my brother accidently trod on him one evening. Calvin yelped out in pain, but funnily enough always moves now whenever he sees my brother coming. I’ve tripped over and trampled on Calvin numerous times, but he never moves for me. Calvin and my brother both have toys. Yet Calvin knows not to touch my brother’s ones. If my brother picks up one of Calvin’s toys by mistake, Calvin goes and tells someone by looking from the toy to an adult. He never goes and retrieves it himself. If my brother is relaxing on the sofa, Calvin occasionally goes and plonks himself in front of my brother wanting him to stroke him. My brother doesn’t realise Calvin is there, so Calvin helpfully nudges him with his nose. Then my brother will stroke Calvin, tap him, pull his ears, which Calvin thinks is great then rolls on to his back then we have to tell Calvin off for exposing his bits. He’s lucky that they are still attached! My brother likes to have a quilt when he’s on the sofa. I’m not sure how or when this happened, but Calvin now also needs a quilt when my brother has his. Calvin will put his head on my lap, look over to my brother and keep repeating the action until he has a quilt too. I think Calvin reckons he’s my brother’s equal. They are both Pisces I suppose.

It frustrates me when professionals suggest my brother has autism. Yes he likes routine, but just as much as the next person. It’s not as if he has a meltdown if his routine is changed, such as having toast for breakfast instead of porridge. Yes he may have shouted for porridge for an hour, but ultimately any food will do. My brother also knows that he can’t get certain things on holiday necessarily like having a hot chocolate before bed. This doesn’t bother him in the slightest. In fact, my brother generally behaves better on holiday. He loves the sunshine and will be quite content with sunbathing. He enjoys listening to the waves and playing with the sand on the beach. Similarly, he enjoys going on the plane. The vibrations and sound are weirdly calming for him.

Other quirks of my brother’s are that he takes his top off and a shoe without warning. We could be out shopping and he will be walking and somehow kick a shoe off. This can be done without us realising. The funniest was last year when we went to Fuerteventura. We were late for check in. So my mum, brother and I went to check in whilst my dad parked the car. My dad met us at security about half an hour later brandishing my brother’s shoe that he happened to find at the entrance. We had no idea my brother had been walking around with only one shoe on and clearly despite the multitude of passengers nobody had thought to pick up his shoe at any point.

Unlike many families with disabled children, my parents never send my brother to respite care. This is because he is unable to tell us what it’s like and whether he’s being treated fairly. It is also because respite centres don’t really do any activities with those in their care. My parents said they’d feel guilty knowing that he’s in an unfamiliar environment with strangers not being engaged, which I totally understand. Yet there will come a point when they won’t be able to care for my brother all of the time and difficult decisions will have to be made.

Growing up with a sibling who has a disability more severe than your own is probably quite a rare experience. Usually having a big brother means you have someone to fight with when you’re younger and a protector when you’re older. In my case despite being the little sister I am the protector. I’m very vocal when it comes to organising my brother’s care and I’m aware that one day it will be my full responsibility. In lots of ways my brother is lucky. He has a loving family and does fun activities day in day out never having the stress of adult life. Though it must be incredibly frustrating for him not to be able to verbally complain or express his emotions. It’s great that he does laugh hysterically and smile broadly on a daily basis. In turn he cracks me up all of the time with his ways and even knows how to embarrass me in public when he exclaims ‘Selina’s crying’ every time he hears a baby scream. The perfect big brother.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Be My Eyes

Be My Eyes is an app that has been around for a while now. However, I’m always late to the party and only got around to trying it out last week. It is an app that is designed for the visually impaired to enable them to borrow a pair of eyes on demand. It requires sighted volunteers to sign up and offer a few seconds or minutes of their time when needed. It is a pretty simple, but effective concept. The visually impaired person requests assistance via the app, then a registered sighted person will receive a video call. If the sighted person is busy, they can reject the call and the app will try another sighted helper. There are about sixteen times the amount of sighted people registered compared to visually impaired, so the likely hood of being contacted is quite slim. Nevertheless, if you are and available to answer, you can feel good that you have helped a visually impaired person out and the recipient will definitely be grateful of the assistance.

Luckily for me despite living by myself, I am in regular contact with sighted people. So I have plenty of opportunities to ask for a working pair of eyes to check things for me. However, last week it was fairly late and I needed to know what denomination a note was in my purse before I travelled the next morning. I was fairly sure it was £5 or £10, but couldn’t remember and had no other notes to measure it against. After a little reluctance, I decided to use Be My Eyes. I was a little hesitant at first, as I got phone phobia. There’s something a bit scary about talking to and trusting a stranger. I was worried that the person would be able to see my face, though a friend assured me that the app uses the back facing camera. I’m not sure why I wanted to keep my anonymity, perhaps I felt embarrassed that I needed help for such a basic task.

Anyway, once I remembered I needed to turn on my light (it is really bad that I live in the dark the majority of the time), I took the plunge. I was slightly alarmed when an automated voice started speaking to me, he was saying something along the lines that he was trying to connect me to the next available helper and there was some pleasant music whilst I waited. It couldn’t have been more than a minute before a young female answered with a West Country lilt. I put on my best phone voice, as you do and spoke very formally when asking what the denomination of my note was, crossing my fingers that it was actually in view of the camera. She politely told me it was £10, I thanked her and we said our goodbyes. It was so easy and somewhat refreshing knowing there was someone out there willing to give up part of their Friday night to help me.

Now I’ve gotten over my silly fears, I’ll certainly be using the app again in future. I do despise technology at times, but it really can be a wonderful thing.

I highly recommend Be My Eyes, search for it in the app store and sign up today.