I remember the day I was diagnosed with Stargardt Disease very vividly. It didn’t bother me in the slightest. In fact, I was just relieved that, after years of wondering why I was struggling in school, that I finally had a name for it. The shift came when I started to be referred to as ‘disabled’.
There’s a certain set of assumptions that we associate with the term ‘disabled’ that I think can have a profound impact on somebody’s ability to cope. While I’d never seen my vision loss as a barrier in life, I noticed myself starting to hold back and feel unworthy due to this label hanging over me.
Joining the GB Paraclimbing Team gave me the opportunity to meet a group of incredibly strong individuals who were not defined by their disability. First and foremost, they were climbers, and nothing else mattered or needed to be a barrier. Seeing the way others had adapted to their disabilities was both refreshing and awe-inspiring; it filled me with so much relief that having a disability wasn’t going to be a life sentence to my independence.
Photo: Athletes in isolation at the BMC National Paraclimbing Championships 2019
I truly believe that sport is a powerful tool for change in so many ways. On an individual level, it has allowed people like me to come to terms with a significant change in their life. It has allowed me to feel independent and strong regardless of sight loss and given me a level of confidence that I don’t think I could’ve gotten anywhere else. On a much larger scale, para sport has the power to change our deep-rooted assumptions about disability, to encourage the world to focus not on what we can’t do, but on the incredible things we CAN do in spite of any physical/mental barriers.
I’ve seen so many people, like me, find their confidence and strength through paraclimbing. It’s such a beautiful thing to witness and I’m incredibly passionate about helping as many people find that same confidence that I did. What has helped you find yours?
While our community is still small, it is very much growing and there are a number of inclusive climbing groups popping up around the country; check some of these out if you’re interested: