Tuesday, 25 May 2010

International Debut

In lane 5 representing Great Britain and Northern Ireland Selina Litt, are exciting words that I will always remember. For that moment I was care free and a broad smile took over my face.

My first international competition was the Knowsley Disability Challenge on 22/23 May. I’d never been to Liverpool before, so it made it that more interesting. On the Saturday was my 100m and the Sunday my 200m.

I went into the weekend feeling confident, as I was running with Jor’dan. We had only ever had a couple of runs together, literally over 40m, but she’s quick, so I didn’t need to worry about my guide being behind me!

Bang! After the drive phase my heart sank, Tash who has a PB of 14.5 was already a good 5m ahead of me. I carried on running to my best ability, mine and Jor’dan’s arms weren’t quite in sink, but my lane sticker got stuck to my hand so I was trying to shake it off. With 10m left to go, my hand slipped out of the guide rope, but I kept running to the finish. Afterwards I found out it’s ok to let go of the guide rope with just 10m to go, as long as your guide is in within 50cm of you. So, thankfully I wasn’t disqualified! I ran 15.49 and felt disappointed. I really thought I was going to run a PB, sub 15secs time. However, on reflection, under the circumstances it wasn’t so tragic, as it was my fastest electronic time to date.

Bang! It’s Sunday and the sun was still shining strong, but with a unwelcome breeze! I had nothing to lose in this race, but it seemed to take ages before I came out of my drive. Jor’dan told me afterwards she had extended it a further 5m so I had less time running upright in the wind, but this does take energy out of you. Since I was in lane 1, I was a bit hesitant of clipping the curb and was chasing all of the way the other athletes. As I hit the home straight, the wind just took my breath away, 50m to go I had no kick, 10m left it just seemed 10m too far! I ran 33.27, my second quickest time for the distance and quickest electronic time. I’m definitely lacking in speed endurance, but I did have a cold a week prior, which wouldn’t have helped. Again mine and Jor’dan’s arms weren’t in sink, but mainly because I was fading and she was doing her best to drag me! I’m still not taking the bend to the best of my ability, which is also losing me time.

Overall, it was a good experience and it’s a shame my times weren’t better. Last night when I was running in training on my own, I felt so quick. There’s big difference in speed when solo and with a guide. There’s allot of technical aspects to guide running, which I don’t think people appreciate.

Looking ahead, I’ve still not got my qualification times for funding, need to drop four tenths off my 100m and a second off my 200m. Certainly not impossible as I’m only 2 races in. Next comp could be in Cardiff on 12/13 June. However, I won’t find out until 2 June if i’ve been selected.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Puppy Walkers

Puppy walkers are an essential part of a Guide Dog’s life. They do all of the hard early work for the first year, training them to spend on command, sitting, coming back on a whistle, not eating food before given permission and all the other things you need to train a regular dog to do. They do it voluntarily and most likely don’t get the credit they deserve.

I wrote a letter to Calvin’s puppy walkers shortly after we qualified, but didn’t get around to sending the letter and some photos until a few weeks ago. When I received an email in my inbox earlier with the subject of Calvin, I assumed it was from Guide Dogs bugging me about not sending any work reports for him still! However, I was pleasantly surprised to see it was from his puppy walkers who live down in Devon.

Here’s what they wrote:
Hi Selina,

How lovely to hear from you, and to tell us about Calvin. Sorry we haven't replied sooner, but we have been on holiday and have been very busy at work and with our son's wedding preparations.We have another Guide Dog puppy, too, called Amos.

Calvin was very special to us, so we are glad you love him too! We thought he would be a tough act to follow, but Amos is also a great dog! We are so glad Calvin is in a good home.

This is just a brief reply, so we will write properly soon, and sort out some photos for you and your family & friends.
Do you have special software for reading emails, or are you helped by others? Even Calvin can’t read or use the computer yet, can he?!

It's so nice to hear from you - we have had only one letter from a new owner before, and we heard nothing else after our reply, and, as you know, it is entirely up to you, the owners, to decide if you want to stay in touch with the Puppy Walkers. We have had 5 dogs for the long term -all lovely dogs -and we have had many, many more for short stays in between We are very busy with a big family and a Learning Disability Care Home to run, but the dogs do nearly everything with us.We'll tell you more ASAP.

So,we will write again, or call you, soon.

Kind regards,
Sue and Dai

So it sounds like Calvin was brought up in a busy environment. Explains his over friendliness to anyone who catches his eye! It will be interesting to learn what he got up to, as a pup and I bet he looked soooooo cute as an ickle baby!

Friday, 14 May 2010

Guide Dog of the Year and Paralympic Champion? Er perhaps not!

Sheffield Shambles:
Last Friday, Calvin and I ventured to Sheffield. This was the furthest we’ve travelled together solo. We were just going up for the day to meet Beth, Jenny and co who were there for the annual Aniridia Network meeting, which was being held on the Saturday.

We caught the train from Leicester station, which was a few mins late, but no big deal really. Calvin was quite well behaved, but beyond the tracks could apparently see someone spraying some sort of disinfectant that he must have been able to smell causing a couple of growls. Once on the train he was such a fidget. We’ve only ever done 10min journeys, excluding the tube, but the seating layout is different. Fair enough he has to have his frantic search under the seats to see what crumbs he can salvage, but then he wants to face the aisle so he can nose at everyone. The last time I checked, dogs can’t walk backwards, so when I usher him in he’s not facing his preferred way. He got comfy for a couple of mins in a nice tight ball so I had plenty of leg space. Next thing I know people are stepping over something in the aisle! He had only managed to sneak under my legs and was sprawled out in the middle of the train! He clearly thought, oooh there’s a nice big space there I can lie in! So, I went through the process of getting him back in, but he continued to fidget and force his way back into the aisle for the duration of the journey. It was one of the longest hour’s of my life!

When the train pulled into the station, I was more than happy to get off and Mr Fidget couldn’t wait either. We followed the mass crowd towards the exit and were rescued by an assistance guy who walked us to the front of the station. Calvin was quite calm, stopped properly at all of the steps and followed the guy all properly. Then he saw Jaynie, Jenny’s Guide Dog. All of his Christmases had come at once. Jaynie is a very calm, cool and collected Guide Dog and you could sense her rolling her eyes at Calvin who was bounding along, ready to have a party. He took his excitement out on Jenny, showing me up successfully by jumping up at her several times. It was one of those moments where you deny being connected in any shape or form to your child!

Next, Beth comes along with Sandie, a Guide Dog who is getting on a bit, but hasn’t forgotten her youth! At this point Calvin thinks I’m the best person in the world bringing him to this dog fest and greets Beth and Sandie accordingly. Sandie was clearly love struck by Calvin and the pair flirted for a while.

We left the station in pursuit of the hotel where the others would be staying. Calvin had a spring in his step and pulled so much, which I struggled to control. He insisted charging ahead, which wasn’t very sociable and didn’t help when I had no idea where we were heading. We arrived at the hotel and my arm was ready to drop off. Calvin and Sandie started playing in harness in reception, whilst Jaynie stood disapprovingly. I would like to say it was Sandie who was the bad influence urging Calvin to play and as if he’s going to refuse!

Calvin and his bitches got to have a play in Beth’s room where they fought over who was top dog. Calvin was fed and then attempted to climb into the bin where I had disposed the bag his food was in. The next challenge was spending him on concrete. At home he will do it no problem, but when out is a fuss pot and is only willing to do it on grass. It took him a while to oblige, but finally did a quick splash and dash!

We ate a pleasant dinner in the hotel and it was then time for me to get back to the station. Calvin pulled and pulled all the way there and I assume he needed a spend, but when we finally reached some grass he just stood there and wouldn’t move for ages. He’s a big drinker, so needs spending quite a bit. He fidgeted all the way back home and a creepy man started speaking to me. Somehow by the end of it Calvin changed his name to Selina!

I knew he must be bursting for a spend when we arrived and he nearly sent me flying when he didn’t stop at the stairs. I took him by the bike stand out of the way and didn’t need to be asked to do a busy. I felt like I was standing there for half an hour whilst the river flowed!

I took him as soon as we got in and another half hour waterfall was in full flow. About 20mins later it was bedtime, but took him again and yet another stream was produced!

Calvin sleeps downstairs in the extension at night and the door is closed. He’s always been happy with the arrangement and it’s worked fine. However, he mustn’t have been able to cross his paws for much longer and broke down the door during the night. I heard him shake at the bottom of the stairs and confused went down to see how he had got there. I took him to spend and was surprised to witness yet another waterfall that made him whimper. He must have been holding for so long that it was now painful to pass water! I did feel for him, but I couldn’t have spent him much more than I did. For the rest of Saturday I took him hourly, just so he could flush everything out and he was fine by the end of the day. I learnt a hell of allot!

Competition Catastrophe:
Last Sunday saw my first athletics competition of the season. Of course it was freezing, windy and threatening to rain! It was being held down in Middlesex, North London and as usual I entered the 100 and 200m. Nerves filled my stomach and I was dying to get it over and done with! This year is so important for me, I just need 15.1secs for 100m, which I ran last year and 32.25secs for 200m, which I came so close to last season in order to secure my World Class funding. I’ve been running so well on my own due to a lack of guide runner and know for sure I should smash the required times.

However, I went down with Amy who is great at taking me to the gym, but isn’t the quickest of runners. I stayed positive, knowing I might not run as well as I am capable of, but looked to at least reach the necessary standards. I felt even sicker when I discovered Tracey Hinton, 5 times Paralympian and Britain’s No.1 for totally blind athletes would be racing against me! I’m No.2 in the country, but have obviously not achieved anything within her league yet!

Bang! Well I thought there should have been a bang by now! I false started! I desperately wanted to get a good start. I didn’t panic and thought maybe I’ve just put pressure on the rest of the field, which might work to my advantage! Bang! I got an excellent start, but wait where is my guide?! Still on the start line?! I’m 20m up the track! Considering we’re attached by a band, this isn’t good! I felt like I had to stop and wait for her. The result being a 15.93 run, last place and frustration!

Afterwards, whilst waiting for my time that The Head Coach of the GB Paralympic Team went to get, since he was eager to see if I had managed the standard, I spoke to Tracey’s guide. Nice bloke, gave me some hints on how guide running should be done and basically told Amy she was too slow for me! Tracey ran 13.85 and was disappointed! She should have been in my shoes! I felt silly!

A 3hour wait for the 200m, which I was determined to give my best shot. No false start this time, but yet again my guide was behind me! I swear it felt like I was running in a zigzag, our arms weren’t in sink and I was off balance because of it. I reached the finish line, 100m behind everyone else and felt like screaming! 35.1secs compared to Tracey’s 28.5! I was a good 3secs off of my own PB. After getting my time I tried to make a quick exit, but Tracey’s guide collared me to find out my time! Talk about rubbing salt into the wound!

What I did learn was that I can’t run with Amy again, as she’s just too slow. However, I don’t have anyone else despite advertising. On a slightly positive note it’s a better start than last year where I ran 16.9 and 36.9 in my opening race, but it’s far from my full potential.

On May 22/23 I have been invited to an international competition being held in Liverpool prior to the Paralympic World Cup. This is both an amazing opportunity and a vital event. I can’t afford to show myself up. Thankfully, Jor’dan who is the second quickest female at my club is helping me out. We’ve only had a couple of runs together, but it feels fast. I just want my times, then I don’t care if I run badly for the rest of the season!

Saturday, 1 May 2010


I used to be a Brownie, never a Rainbow or Girl Guide, but a proud Brownie! I was a Seconder and a Sixer in the Pixie pack. The best pack to be in of course!

These days however, the packs have animal names instead. Not quite as exciting and mystical if you ask me, but c’est la vie!

Just after I got back from holiday I was asked to do a talk about visual impairment at Brownies. I’d never really done anything like it before, but looked forward to educating the kids who were working towards their Disability Awareness badge.

Naturally, I took Calvin along who was ecstatic at the sight of little people! I also took my colour detector, talking dictionary, laptop with Hal, playing cards, pink cane and Braille magazine. Instead of lecturing them I asked if they knew what each item was, explained in more detail what it did and then let them have a play. Calvin was left until last and I got him to walk me around the hall and find the door. Afterwards, I let the girls have a go with him. I know I shouldn’t, but it actually worked really well. Calvin was surprisingly well behaved and after each Brownie squealed forward he proceeded to take them around the hall. They weren’t blind folded, so pretty safe.

A couple of days ago I was stunned to have three thank you cards posted to me. Bless them, they’d made them tactile and left sweet messages. I thought Calvin would have taken all the glory, but I got a few positive mentions too. They’ve got their badge now and hopefully they did learn something on the way!