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.

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.

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!

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.

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)!

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