Friday, 11 April 2014

Comps in Brum

Last month saw me compete in Birmingham twice, for two different sports; goalball and athletics.

Birmingham Novice Tournament:
This was the second tournament I have played for Nottingham and this time I was playing for our A team, although both of our teams are very good. We played as a three, so had no substitutes. I quite enjoy this set up since the games don’t last for long at that level. Unfortunately, we lost our first game, a combination of poor communication and silly mistakes. This meant the highest we could finish was fifth overall, which we easily managed floating through our following three games. To be honest I felt like we had the ability to win the entire tournament, but there are no second chances.

I was hoping to play at intermediate level tomorrow in Cambridge, but a freak injury has prevented me, which I’m gutted about. I’m not sure how much more goalball I’ll be playing in the coming months, as athletics will now take priority with just seven weeks to go until Commonwealth selection.

Midlands Open:
I have trained at The Alexander stadium a million times and raced outdoors there on several occasions. However, I have never competed indoors there before and don’t intend to again. The warm up area was like a cattle market and when you need two lanes to do even striders, it’s near impossible. I made the best use of what space was available before my race.

For the first time ever I nearly false started, which immediately impacted upon my performance. 60m in 8.91, nothing special and nowhere near the speed I showed in Glasgow. Nevertheless, it was a good opportunity to get another race in before the outdoor season commences.

It’s still yet to be decided, but I will open up my outdoor campaign either on 30 April or 7 May depending on how I am feeling. One thing is for certain, this is going to be my most testing year to date, but hopefully my most successful one too. Commonwealths, Europeans, let’s go!

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Sixing It Up

They grow up so fast! Calvin is six today! He has unfortunately had to work through his birthday, as I am currently doing some work experience at school to help with my long-term goal of becoming a teacher. I have to give Calvin credit, he plays his Guide Dog role very well at school until he spots left overs from break or lunchtime. He is generally attentive in lessons, although the odd attempt has been made to thieve from pupils school bags and one pupil alerted me to the fact that he was trying to give himself lead poisoning by chewing a pencil in class the other day. Equally, the pupils are great, knowing not to fuss or distract him, it’s the teachers in the staff room that can’t help themselves!

Health wise, Calvin is still having seizures from time to time, but not regularly enough to warrant daily medication. However, he is currently on tablets, as he has developed a rash in his never regions. I’m sure if he knew I was sharing that information, he would be dying with embarrassment right now! It is just a result of an allergic reaction to cement dust since we are currently doing some house renovations. His crown jewels will be back to sparkly condition in no time.

At six years old there are no signs of Calvin slowing down. He still has his adorable puppy dog habits whilst growing into a mature, confident and assertive character.

Happy Birthday Calvin

Thursday, 6 March 2014

World Book Day

As an English graduate, it is only natural that I have a passion for books. At primary school age I could often be found with a book pressed up against my nose and I was very proud to have a pin badge stating I was a school librarian. When I was ten my vision dramatically deteriorated resulting in me no longer being able to access standard print. However, I have vivid memories of reading the Harry Potter series under my CCTV despite the massive eye strain and gradual increase in magnification over the years, as my sight continued to fade away.

From the age of eleven, I was encouraged to learn Braille, but I had no real interest in learning since as far as I was concerned I could still read print and Braille was for proper blind people, which I certainly was not! My attitude changed when I went to The Royal National College for the Blind In Hereford. I began to learn Braille again and by the January I was no longer able to access print even under my CCTV. The final Harry Potter book was due for release later that year and I had to read it no matter what. My first plan involved trying to train my eyes to see again. I spent countless days, weeks and months attempting to read under my CCTV praying that the blurred text would come back into focus once more. This plan unfortunately failed, but I still possess the strong belief that if we are not proactive with our senses they will not work to their full potential. Even though I only have light perception remaining, I will regularly make a conscious effort to locate windows in a room, count headlights on cars or generally have a look around to find any sort of light source. Back to my Harry Potter dilemma, I felt Braille was my only option in order to discover if Harry could conquer Lord Voldermort or not. It took me two long hard months to read The Deathly Hallows in Braille, but I did it!

Thereafter, I became a member of RNIB’s Library Service, loaning various titles in Braille, which to this day take me an age to read. It wasn’t until I began my degree that I started to make use of audio/talking books. Being a book snob, audio/talking books never appealed before, as I felt that they take away from the reading experience. The interpretation of characters is that of someone else’s imagination and not your own. However, purely for speed purposes, I turned to the dark side.

Now, I am also a member of RNIB’s Talking Books Service. Admittedly, the majority of my reading these days is done via listening rather than touch. It is a convenience thing. Audio is faster and much easier to transport, so ideal for extensive train journeys or holidays. Nevertheless, Braille has its advantages too, the reading experience is more personal and new books are usually produced in Braille, sometimes years before it gets recorded into audio. It is nice to have the choice.

There comes a time when you have to choose between turning the page and closing the book (Josh Jameson)

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Life's A Drag

Last week I was at the theatre again, this time to see the ‘feel good’ musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert. It was jam packed with karaoke hits and camp comedy. There appeared to be lots of visual humour, as the audience often erupted with laughter and I sat confused until one of my friends whispered some audio description to me. Now I have seen a professional audio described performance, I think I was made more aware of how much I miss out on by not being able to see. However, I still thoroughly enjoyed the show and it wouldn’t prevent me from seeing future productions. In fact, I hope to see Fame next month.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Glasgow International Match

Earlier this month I received an invite from British Athletics to compete in the Glasgow International Match on Saturday 25 January in the visually impaired 60m. The Glasgow International Match is Scotland vs Great Britain vs Commonwealth Select vs America. I was asked to represent the Commonwealth Select Team which was captained by the public’s favourite, Kim Collins. The event was broadcast live on BBC One making it the most prestigious competition I had ever participated in.

Friday:
I flew alone from East Midlands airport to Glasgow. British Athletics arranged all of the assistance for me and everything ran smoothly. Once in Glasgow I was met at the airport by the transport to go to the hotel.

My first impression of the hotel was that it was massive and I was surprised to find my room was on the fourteenth floor! I knew at that point there would be no way I would be getting around the hotel by myself. Thankfully, my guide runner’s room was just down the corridor. The evening meal was buffet style and I went back to the room with the intention of having an early night.

At dinner I heard rumours that everyone was sharing a room, but as I climbed into bed I assumed I was going to be on my own, as nobody else had arrived. However, around 10.30pm, I’m not sure if I was asleep or not, I about had a heart attack as I thought my bedroom door was being banged down. Turned out just to be my roommate.

Later that night I must have been thinking about the following day, I realised that I had forgotten to pack my trainers! At no other point during packing did it occur to me that I may need them. I just kept checking that I had my race spikes etc. A mission was launched to borrow a pair from someone, but none were located.

Saturday:
I normally struggle to eat much on race day, but had no trouble consuming breakfast. My race wasn’t until 3.47pm, so I had a relaxed morning listening to music. We arrived at the track a good couple of hours before my race and I proceeded to warm up in my Timberland style boots, not cool. I planned to do drills in my socks, unfortunately this plan was abandoned as it would have been too slippery on the basketball court.

The actual sprint straight where you could practice your starts/runs was situated just behind the main stands of the stadium, so you could hear the crowd and all of the action. Again, this should have made me anxious, but I found myself feeling quite relaxed. My train of thought was that I dedicate my entire life to the sport and it is what I have wanted to do with my life for years, so now I had finally been given the opportunity to prove myself on a large stage what would be the point of spoiling it all with nerves. My passion is athletics, so I was going to enjoy myself.

On the start line I had completely forgotten that I would be on TV and I think it helped not being able to see how many people there were in the crowd. One good thing about indoor competition too is that you don’t feel cold waiting around at the beginning. The race itself was over in a flash. It had its strengths and weaknesses and as I crossed the line I had no idea where I had finished.

I was given the time of 8.77secs and I was satisfied. I had only raced 60m a couple of weeks previously only managing 9.01secs, so it was a significant improvement. When I also discovered I had not come last beating for the first time in a head to head my biggest T11 rival, I was further satisfied. I can’t say at any point that I felt elated, as I know there is more in the tank. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and it is definitely something I would rush to do again.

When I got my bag back, I could hear my phone going crazy as it received text after text of congratulations. Without sounding too cheesy, each and every one made me get that warm fuzzy feeling inside!

Sunday:
The calm after the storm. It felt like an incredibly long day, mostly because my flight back home wasn’t until 6pm. Nevertheless, it was quite nice enjoying the hotel hospitality, especially the hot chocolate I had with cream and chocolate balls! Little things.

The assistance at the airport all ran smoothly again and Calvin was beside himself with excitement when he saw me, literally unable to stop jumping all over me. I got home and watched myself back on the TV. I was a little disappointed with the commentary and can safely say it was much more exciting racing than watching it!

Thanks so much to everyone for all of the messages of support. There are a few questions that I keep being asked so will clear them all up here!

Q: Why were you running with people who could see?
A: It was a mixed classification race, T11, T12 and T13 athletes. T12 and T13 athletes are partially sighted. We are not usually combined at major championships, but we were for this particular race.

Q: What was that big thing you were wearing over your face?
A: All T11 athletes have to wear a blindfold to ensure we don’t cheat. I perhaps need to invest in a more discrete one, but my current one is so comfortable!

Q: Was it the Commonwealth Games?
A: No, I represented the Commonwealth Select Team who won the competition overall, but it wasn’t the Commonwealths. However, I hope to qualify for the Commonwealths this summer, which are being held in Glasgow too.

Q: So what does the race mean? Did you get a medal? Does it mean you’ve qualified for the Commonwealths?
A: The race doesn’t really mean anything significant, it was just another competition, but it happened to be on TV.

Productivity breeds success

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Snow White

On Saturday I went to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in Panto at the Birmingham Hippodrome. It is a little late in the season for pantomime, but this was an audio described performance with a touch tour prior to the show. It was my first time at the Hippodrome and I was impressed from start to finish.

We had ten visually impaired and zero fully sighted people in our group. As soon as we walked through the doors, the staff came over to offer assistance. They took us through the touch tour, this is where you get to explore the stage and props in order to help with the appreciation of the performance. We had the opportunity to feel the giant mirror, enormous dragon, the dwarfs home, various character costumes amongst many other things. It is fascinating to observe the great attention to detail.

Between the end of the touch tour and the beginning of the show, we had three members of staff that stayed with our group. They demonstrated how to operate the audio description headsets guided us to buy food and showed us where the toilets were. During the performance, they looked after Calvin for me. Usually, I keep him with me at the theatre, but it is a bit boring for him sitting around doing nothing and quite squashed for us both in between the seats. They walked, spent and fed him for me, bringing him back at the interval.

I was also a virgin to live audio description, so had no idea how detailed it would be. The describer obviously had a script to work from, but there were many occasions that he had to describe off script as in pantomime it isn’t unusual for the cast to alter parts slightly. The audio description definitely helped with knowing what was going on and it was comforting not to be at a loss with visual jokes meaning you could laugh at the same time as the rest of the audience. I found I preferred to not listen to the description during the songs and through the entire performance I only had one ear piece in, as I found it difficult to hear the main action with both.

The show itself was amazing! There were a few stars in the production and Goc Wan stole the show for me. He was fabulous! Compared to Aladdin that I saw last month, this performance was on another level and restored my faith in pantomime.

I am looking forward to returning to the Hippodrome in September for my favourite musical of all time, Cats. Again I have booked for the audio described performance and touch tour.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Half Birthday

Today marks my twenty five and a half year birthday. Birthdays always make you contemplate life, so it seems a good time to reflect on 2013 and look at what this year may bring.

2013
I think I will call it ‘the year of socialising and success’. I was thrilled to finally graduate and even better with First Class Honours. I was also pleased that I met my athletics target of dipping under fourteen seconds and as a bonus topped the European rankings for my classification.

It would take more than my fingers and toes to count the amount of new friends I made last year, some through Action, others through Victa and some just through friends of friends. I feel quite lucky to have met so many amazing people and look forward to having more adventures, giggles and let’s face it stressful moments (they will know what I mean)!

2014
I like even numbers. Although the year has hardly begun, I am going to name it ’the year of opportunity’. This year is going to be a rollercoaster ride of highs, lows and loop the loops. It is already proving to be that way. I am strapped in and ready to take on whatever the year throws at me.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained