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WHO I AM

In 2015, at the age of 17, I was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Macular Dystrophy; a juvinile 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 dinner plate or 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 wasn’t very good!). 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 CLIMBING 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 as the first blind woman to represent Britain in climbing. Having been my entire life for the best part of 7 years, climbing for team GB is an absolute honour.

Team GB at the paraclimbing world cup in Briancon 2018

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, Be, talks to me through a headset and guides me up the route; she describes the direction, size and shape of each hold and basically acts as my eyes.

INTERNATIONAL CLIMBING COMPETITIONS

I competed in my first international paraclimbing World Cup in July 2018 in Briançon, France alongside a variety of other paraclimbers from all over the world. After achieving a perfect score of three tops, I won my first gold medal. This was such a surreal experience and really quite emotional!

My biggest comp of the 2018 season was the climbing World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria where a total of 22 nations competed in paraclimbing. With the incredible support of team GB and the crowd in Innsbruck’s Olympic stadium, I managed to secure my second gold to become one of the first British paraclimbing world champions. Team GB achieved a total of 3 golds (3 world champions) alongside a silver and a bronze. 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.

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