WHO I AM
In 2015, at the age of 17, I was diagnosed with Stargardt Macular Dystrophy; a juvenile form of macular degeneration that causes gradual loss of my central vision. As a result, I have limited colour and detail vision and rely purely on the use of my peripheral vision to carry out everyday tasks. When I’m trying to explain it to other people, I usually compare my visual impairment to holding a football in front of my face.
I was heavily involved in scouting as a kid and had my first experience of climbing when I was 5 (I’m pretty sure I had to be rescued by my instructor because I was so scared, so I’d like to think I’ve improved since!). I began climbing regularly at 13, attending my local climbing wall in Sunderland and became incredibly passionate about the sport. What really astounded me about the climbing community is how inclusive and supportive it is no matter your ability, age, gender etc. and I quickly found myself surrounded by a group of wonderful people that got me really psyched about the sport.
Joining the GB Paraclimbing Team
I was quickly encouraged to start entering national youth competitions and managed to place third at the SYBC (Scottish Youth Bouldering Championships) two years running despite having trouble with sight loss. It wasn’t until I stepped out into finals at the SYBC 2015 and couldn’t see any of the boulder problems that I realised things were getting serious!
As my eyesight began to noticeably deteriorate and I received the diagnosis of my condition, the idea of competing in paraclimbing events alongside other visually impaired people was brought to my attention. In 2017, I competed in the BMC national paraclimbing series and was given the opportunity to join the British team;. having been my entire life for the best part of 7 years, climbing for the GB team is an absolute honour.
Adapting to my visual impairment
As I’ve slowly lost my sight, I’ve been able to adapt fairly well in order to continue to live normally and independently. I consider myself incredibly lucky that my sight loss has been gradual from birth as it has allowed me to adapt and rely on familiarity and memory. This has meant that I’m still relatively confident when navigating around places I’m familiar with and can remain somewhat independent. When I’m on the wall, my sight guide talks to me through a headset and guides me up the route; describing the direction, size and shape of each hold and basically acting as my eyes.
I began competing internationally in 2018, gaining a gold at my first World Cup in Briancon, France and securing the title of World Champion for B2 women a couple of months later in Innsbruck. During the 2019 World Championships, I managed to retain my title along with my team mates Hannah and Matt. The Gb Paraclimbing Team came home form the 2019 WCH with a whopping 9 medals (3 Gold, 3 Silver, 3 Bronze), which was a huge success and their best result to date!
I have a number of different climbing-related goals, both personal and competitive; however, it would be a dream of mine to be able to compete in the Paralympics one day and I hope to see paraclimbing grow to allow this sport to gain recognition on a broader scale.