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Hi! My name is Abbie and I’m a competitive paraclimber for Team GB, falling into the Women’s B2 category for the visually impaired. I’ve been climbing for around 7 years and first got involved through my local scout group in Sunderland; however, I didn’t begin to significantly lose my sight until a few years ago. 

Alongside a passion for climbing, I’ve always had a huge passion for photography and all things design (anything visual really…). I study Digital Media at the University of Leeds and I’m currently on a year long placement at SQ Digital as a design and development Intern. I built this website from start to finish as part of my training at the agency and I’m really excited about it, so I hope you like it! 


In 2015, I was diagnosed with a condition called ‘Stargardts Macular Dystrophy’, a juvenile form of macular degeneration that has led to the gradual loss of my central vision (the best way to describe my vision would probably be like holding a football in front of your face!). My peripheral vision is not affected by the condition, so I rely purely on this to carry out everyday tasks and live fairly independently. Our peripheral vision is designed to be used for navigation, for a sense of space, and our macular recognises colour and detail (we use this to read, differentiate colours and recognise faces etc.); so, although I often appear fully sighted in my ability to navigate independently without tripping over all that much, I also rely on this part of my vision for everything, which can be quite challenging sometimes.  

When I started climbing, I was completely unaware of any possible issues with my eyes, I thought it was completely normal not to be able to see the top of my local wall (23 metres is pretty high!) and I was always a relatively slow climber anyway. After a couple of years, I was encouraged to try out competing in some national comps, and it wasn’t until I was in the finals of the Scottish Youth Bouldering Championships and couldn’t see any of my problems during our viewing time that I realised I might be at a slight disadvantage! I competed in the BMC Paraclimbing Series in 2017 and was lucky enough to make the British team a few months later.  

In competition, most visually impaired climbers wear a headset so they can talk to their coach/sight-guide as they climb. As I have no ability to recognise detail and can only see a coloured blob out of the corner of my eye when I climb, my sight guide (Be) describes the direction, size, shape and distance of each hold to me. This allows me to work out the specific movements and techniques I need to use to have the best chance of reaching and sticking the hold. Having grown up with pretty good vision and having competed in able bodied competitions, where my slower climbing put me at a disadvantage, I’ve worked hard to improve this over the years and have ended up being quite speedy for a visually impaired climber (bonus!). 

This was my first year competing internationally with Team GB and it was amazing! We travelled to two international comps over the summer; the IFSC paraclimbing World Cup (Briançon) and the Innsbruck World Championships, which were both incredibly important experiences for me in many different ways. After winning gold in both competitions and securing the title of World Champion just a few months ago, I’m more psyched than ever to push my limit, so watch this space!



Follow the team:

Instagram: @gb_paraclimbing

Facebook: GB Paraclimbing Team


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