Finding my way into blind sport – part 2

The number my mum had copied out of the British Blind Sport magazine was that of JB. I told him I was an athlete who was losing my sight rather rapidly and asked him to give me some details about athletics for blind people in Britain. He explained to me the role of BBS who run blind sport in this country. He explained how they were a charity, how they put on training weekends and competition days for blind athletes and how they chose teams and sent them to compete internationally.

I was absolutely dumb struck – an upside to being blind. As JB spoke my mind was racing ahead with what might be. International athletics for the blind meant that there was a possibility that I could achieve one of my childhood dreams of being an international athlete.

I asked JB for more details about the international competitions and found out that there was to be a European Championships later that year in France. It wasn’t too late for me to qualify for the team but it would be hard as GB had lots of good athletes. He asked me what times I ran for my preferred distances. I told him my times and I could hear the disbelief in his voice 11.6 for the 100m, “22.7 for the 200 and 51.6 for the 400m? Are you sure?” he asked. I briefly ran through my athletics career up to that point and he began to realise the kind of athlete he was talking to.

JB asked me the name of my guide runner and asked how we ran together. “What’s a guide runner” I innocently asked. He couldn’t believe that I was managing without a guide runner and told me that I would have to find one immediately and learn how to run with him. Whilst this is in no way intended as a criticism of JB, not least because his advice turned out to be absolutely correct, I found this to be an attitude all too often prevalent within the community of people who work with disabled people. All too often they tend to tell disabled people what they need based on their past experience with others in similar situations, but what is right for one person is not necessarily right for another. At the time I had been managing, admittedly only by the skin of my teeth, to run unaided. The attitude that I must run with a guide runner, and there was no question about it, was the same as those who insisted that I must have a guide dog, I must learn Braille and must go to Torquay to the blind rehabilitation centre. It was a one size fits all type of mentality – you are blind therefore you must follow this pathway. The one thing interestingly that does not happen is someone to tell you that as you are now blind these are all the benefits and help which you may be entitled to. Funny how people tend to tell you that you need something which will keep them in a job, but don’t tell you about things you are entitled to which may cost money. Although I knew very little about life as a blind person and needed some guidance, at times it did feel like people were making decisions for me rather than giving me the information upon which I could make my own decisions. The slightly older Andy would certainly not have tolerated this kind of attitude.

At the end of the conversation JB told me that he would like to invite me to a training weekend which was to be held in Solihull a couple of weeks later. In the meantime he suggested that I found a guide runner and he told me the basics of guiding and a few suggestions that I might like to try.

I had regularly trained with and raced against my friend JW, or to be precise, I regularly had the pleasure of looking at the back of his head several times a week as he disappeared into the distance. As my sight became worse, it took less and less time for him to disappear from view during our training sessions. JW was a very very good athlete. He had been the UK Indoor under 20 400m champion, had made the English Schools final at 800m and could beat me at all distances; in short, the longer the event, the further he beat me by. JW and I had been the best of friends since he had moved to Bridlington from Nuneaton after his O’ levels in 1986, both on and off the track. As he lived quite close by he seemed the obvious person to ask. He agreed to give it a go, after all, it might be a bit of a laugh. How right he was, as whilst success was not necessarily guaranteed, fun certainly was. Had JW said no, who knows how the rest of my life would have played out.

The invitations for the BBS training weekend arrived and I, JW and Dad the chauffeur travelled down to Solihull. We were to stay at the Moathouse Hotel on Friday night and Saturday night and to train on Saturday and Sunday. Having had to wait for JW to finish work, we arrived at 10:00 pm and we were told that we had missed the evening meal. We weren’t too bothered about this as we had all had a kebab and a pizza before we set off. They really were innocent times, thinking that because we had an intensive weekend of training that we should, or even could, stuff our faces on unhealthy food. I was very nervous about the training session that was planned for the next day as I was sure that I was going to get my arse kicked, and as such my dreams would be shattered and I would be left with only the messy end of the stick that represented being blind. Strange how quickly my view of blind people had switched from non sport playing basket weavers to athletes who would kick my arse: I hadn’t been educated that quickly, so this obviously showed a severe lack of confidence in my own ability.

This fear, combined with JW’s unquenchable thirst for beer, resulted in four pints being devoured by 11:00 pm. Pizza, kebab and beer: how things would change over the years, at least for me if not JW!

We went down for breakfast the next day and despite my intrepidation about the forthcoming training sessions we heartily disposed of a cooked breakfast (the full works), and then went down to the track. I met some of the athletes and the coaches who were involved and then sat down awaiting the welcome speech. This was given by J “you will go on my first whistle” A, later to become famous as the referee on the ITV Saturday night television programme gladiators. JA was the driving force behind blind athletics and stories abound of his no nonsense attitude to red tape and obstructive officials, including allegedly managing to successfully get the team onto the Moscow Olympic track that was being guarded by armed soviet guards who did not want him to do so. JA, who had coached some of the countries top able-bodied athletes, was trying to drag the world of disabled athletics into a more professional era, where our disabilities were secondary to our status as athletes, which involved training like athletes who had disabilities, rather than like disabled people who were doing athletics. Training philosophies which were used in the able bodied world were the norm for JA, and the athletes certainly seemed to be benefiting from this if their vast array of medals from recent championships were anything to go by.

JA introduced himself and all the coaches in the room, and explained what was going to happen over the weekend. I was informed that I was to train with JB and the rest of the sprinters. I had managed to get separated from JW, and as we stood up to leave a young girl grabbed my elbow and asked if I could guide her out of the room. Too embarrassed to do otherwise, I followed the shapes in front of me which were slowly making their way towards the light at the other end of the dimly lit room, but despite my best attempts I managed to bounce her off a variety of chairs and tables, before slamming her into the doorframe. I felt bad about that, but I wasn’t sure what else I could have done. After she let go and searched for another elbow I was grabbed by JW and we made our way on to the track.

After a warm up session I was asked by JB to show him what I was capable of by running a 100m race against the other athletes in the group. Despite JB telling me over the phone that I had to find a guide runner, I was asked to run on my own in the outside two lanes of the track. I was very anxious. I was afraid that my inadequacies as a sprinter would be revealed by this contest, but also afraid for my safety. Although I had told JB that I had been running on my own, that was two weeks earlier and by that time I was struggling to do anything on my own, so the prospect of the race was very frightening. However, I was not about to let these strangers know that I was a wimp so I just did it and braced myself for a fall or a bump. As it happened I was quite safe, due mainly to the fact that I pulled my hamstring after about 40m or so.

I was hit with a feeling of total frustration and a sense of anti climax. I had travelled all that way to only run 40m, and possibly miss out on the chance to show them what I was capable of. However, JW had been keeping an eye on the rest of the athletes and told me that I was leading when my hamstring went and he thought I could beat them all. This helped my mood somewhat, as did the coaches saying that they were impressed with my all too brief exhibition of my talents.

As it turned out, this pulling of the hamstring was probably a blessing in disguise. It meant that I couldn’t train at all for the rest of the weekend, but it did mean that I could meet everybody in the team and all the coaching and support staff. This was a real eye opener. By talking to blind people and people who worked with them I soon came to realise the all too simple truth that blind people were just people who could not see. Being blind did not mean that you had to be good at basket weaving, like radio 4 or wear clothes from the seventies. It didn’t mean you had to sit in a chair in the corner all day either, most of these guys and girls had jobs, and good jobs at that. Various degrees of blindness had not stopped all these inspirational characters from doing whatever they liked. Despite various prejudices that they had experienced, it was mainly factors which able bodied people had to put up with which prevented them from achieving their dreams: MF would never play for Wolverhampton Wanderers because he wasn’t good enough at football and was only 5 feet tall; JW would never be able to eat all the food in the world despite his best efforts as there was not enough time in the day; RL would never get to sleep with all the women in the world as not all of them fancied ugly scousers; MW who I would meet later in the year, would not get to lie in front of the telly all day as he had to work for part of it. They were all real life normal people, with normal lives and normal problems. MF wanted to know the football scores, JW wanted to know when dinner was, RL wanted to know intimate details about my then girlfriend, and MW wanted to know if there was anywhere he could lay down. Their sight problems were only mentioned fleetingly. Their sight, or lack of it, was part of who they were, it did not define who they were. Of course, things could have been different absent their sight problems, but they tried not to let their lack of perfect vision place boundaries on what they could achieve.

I must have done enough to impress the coaches as I was invited along to another training weekend and to the UK championships which would determine who would be picked for the European Championships later that year. I returned home optimistic in what the future held for me. The most important thing I took away with me from the weekend (apart from the hotel shampoo and soap) was the will power to get through whatever problems I faced. If ever I was in a situation where I thought I couldn’t do it, or was embarrassed I would say to myself /“What would RM do in this situation?”, or “what would RL say to that person?” I found that the athletes I had met had become my new heroes, my role models. I am proud to say that they later became very good friends as well.

The BBS training weekend was all that was needed to reignite my sporting dreams and aspirations. The excitement and sense of purpose in my sport that had been missing since my early teens resurfaced overnight. It was like being born again. I now had the opportunity to achieve all my boyhood dreams. The result was a change from a social athlete into a 100% serious athlete. The drive and determination that had been present in my sport during my formative years resurfaced. I started to train more often and harder during all sessions. I wasn’t going to let my blindness prevent me from achieving my full potential; I had been given an opportunity to achieve my dreams and I was determined to take advantage of it.

Enthused by the BBS training weekend, throughout the spring of 1991 JW and I practiced our guiding technique as often as we were able. At first we used a sock as a rudimentary guiding tool, but soon found that this could slip out of your hand which resulted in sheer panic, usually me panicking, but often JW as well. Our next device was a rather sturdy shoe lace tied into a figure of eight which made it nearly impossible to lose hold of. However, this was soon disposed of as well after a disastrous start to my competitive career in blind athletics.

Our first race was to be at the City Of Hull open meeting, held every year in April at the Costello stadium in Hull. This seemed like a good place to do our first race as Costello had been home to my athletics since I was 12 years old and I knew it like the back of my hand so it took away some of the fear. It would also be full of people who knew me and had followed my progression into the ranks of the blind. I thought this would make me feel less embarrassed and less freakish. It probably would have worked if all had gone well. We had explained to the track officials that I was competing and that I would require two lanes. They said that they were aware of my situation and had allotted to me what would become the usual outside two lanes – keep me away from the real athletes so I can’t hurt them was the thought that went through my mind.

We settled into our blocks, a skill which we had practiced extensively, and then rose into the set position on the starters command. The gun fired, our legs and arms drove hard and the shoe lace snapped! Our first race had lasted approximately two meters.

“Good place to do our first race” I thought, “not embarrassing at all”. So much for that. It was to get worse. Ours had been the penultimate race of the day. The only race left was the senior women’s 200m race. I had a simple choice to make, run with the women or don’t run. Men racing against women never happens. I decided that I had better do it despite being embarrassed at the thought of it.

We settled into our blocks for a second time, this time clutching a sock which, despite our concerns based on previous disasters, was the only option available to us and prepared to go into the set position. Two thoughts, or more precisely prayers, were racing through my mind. The first was a prayer not to let the sock slip out of my hand, and the second, the more important one, was to not let me get beaten by a girl. The prayers must have worked as I managed to hold onto both the rope and my dignity by winning the race in a particularly unimpressive time of 25.7 secs, a time which would become the usual time for my first race of the season.

By the time the BBS UK Champs came around in early June I had taken to using a loop of sturdy rope which allowed both myself and my guide to place our hands in with the backs of our hands almost touching. We found that this allowed us to keep syncronisation better and to allow the guide greater control with steering me. However as the champs came round JW told me that he would not be able to guide me as he wanted to do a race himself on the same day. This turned out to be something I was going to have to get used to, especially as all my guides were seriously good quality athletes who had their own goals and objectives to achieve in their athletic careers, and so I asked another friend and former training partner if he fancied having a go at guiding me. His name was MD and he was some 2 or 3 years older than me. Despite being a 3,000m steeple chaser he was remarkably quick over the shorter distances, and being the nice guy that he was he said he would give it a try. We trained together a couple of times and achieved some very quick times. It was going to be a success, I could feel it.

I had decided that I would run the 100m at the championships on my own as I could just about manage to stay in my two lanes on the straight, and it was always quicker to run without a guide if it was possible as it is more biomechanically efficient. As I required guiding around the bends MD would just be required for the 200m and 400m. The champs were held at the Wolverhampton track, a track which held bad memories for me. The reason for these bad memories was a crime that I had committed at that track, one for which I have never really been properly punished.

When I was 14 I had suffered a great deal from ingrowing toe nails. I had received all the treatment which chiropody had to offer but I still suffered a great deal of discomfort. It had prevented me from playing football and rugby when it was really bad, and when it was not that bad had merely meant that I was in agony every time I kicked the ball, which is an important part of both football and being a stand off at rugby. Action had to be taken so my parents paid for me to have an operation to remove part of my nail bed and part of the side of both of my big toes which the specialist had said were the two problem areas. The operation was totally successful, but I had to wear massive bandages on both big toes. I could not fit my bandaged feet in any of my shoes, so I couldn’t go to school. Although this didn’t exactly upset me, it did mean that I had started to go a bit stir crazy. The athletics club were going to Wolverhampton to an open meeting, which meant a long coach journey. Long coach journey’s with the boys team were always really good fun, but add into the equation a load of attractive girls as well and we are now talking teenage heaven. I was not going to miss out on such a trip so I had to find a way of getting some footwear on my feet. One choice was to cut up my trainers, but I only had the one pair and my parents couldn’t afford to get me any new ones, so that wasn’t really an option. In the end it came down to either staying at home or wearing a pair of sandals. At the time sandals were extremely unfashionable, often being referred to as Adidas Jesus. I had no choice, if I wanted to get on that coach I would have to put up with this fashion disaster. I say disaster as this in itself was not the crime. The crime was the wearing of white socks with the sandals. All day I had to put up with shouts of abuse and hysterical laughter, and that was just from my brother! People who were not related to me were no better either. Therefore, every time I thought of Wolverhampton I broke out into a cold sweat and my toes started to tingle.

Despite these bad memories I turned up at the track there for the UK Championships in good spirits. I thought I would run well and was looking forward to gaining selection for the European champs. My 100m race was to be run very early in the programme. I was competing in the B2 category for athletes who were partially sighted. I was only to run against a couple of athletes, but I had no idea how good they were, so I was very nervous. The gun went, I exploded out the blocks and set off down the straight. I had no idea if I was winning or not, but thought I was running fast. I was probably trying a bit too hard and started to tighten up towards the end of the 100m. Five meters from the line my hamstring went again, but as I was so close to the finish I managed to limp at great speed through the line and still win the race. Without having run that brilliantly, I was the UK Champion, and I had only been registered blind for a month. After 10 hard years of athletics training, I was an overnight success.

That victory meant so much to me. It was a national title, it meant I was the fastest partially sighted athlete in the UK and it was my first accolade as a blind athlete. But it signified more than that; it signified that despite the adversity and dramatic changes in my life, the fact that my eyes had all but stopped working did not mean that everything else had stopped working. My body was still that of an athlete and whilst I needed extra help and an additional lane to run in, that had not changed. It made me realise that my brain still functioned as it had before my sight problems and that there must surely be ways of allowing me to use it in order to carve out some kind of career for myself.

I felt very frustrated at the thought of not being able to run the 200m and 400m. I wouldn’t normally have minded, but I had asked MD to guide me in those events, he had taken a day away from his own life to do it, and now I had to tell him he had wasted his time. These feelings of guilt and that I was abusing my friends are still with me today not only in athletics but in life in general. Feelings of being a burden are common to all disabled people I guess and, even when you know in your heart that the person really doesn’t mind, there is always a deep seated nagging doubt that they are just saying that.

To try and compensate him for his trouble I bought him a beer at the bar and awaited the verdict regarding the euro champs. The news came through by the end of the afternoon that I had done enough and I would be going to France. What relief, what joy. At last, I was going to achieve my lifetime ambition. Every cloud did in fact have a silver lining. Being blind was the only reason that I had achieved this.

Look out for the story of what happened at my first championships which should appear here over the next couple of weeks.

Finding my way into blind sport – part 1

I was always a keen sportsmen – actually, that’s a lie; sport was the most important thing in my life. I would have given anything to be a professional sportsman. Little did I know…?

I played football for the county, for school and a Sunday league team, rugby for the county and school, cricket for school, and ran for the county and City of Hull AC. However, I thought my sporting career was over when I finally lost all my sight aged 21.

The real impact on my sporting career started when I was 20. The first casualty was my blossoming career as a 400m hurdler. During the athletics season, at a meeting at North or South Shields, it was one or the other, the City of Hull senior men’s team was short of numbers and needed volunteers for the majority of the field events, the 400m hurdles and the 3,000m steeplechase. As I would have struggled to run 3,000m never mind jump over barriers and a water jump, and I didn’t want to volunteer for any throwing events (after a disasterous javelin incident at Sheffield earlier that year – I’ll probably blog about that some time), I volunteered for the 400m hurdles. The biggest problem I had was getting over the hurdles as they were much higher than I had thought. To say I hurdled them with difficulty was not true: I actually jumped over them with difficulty. I was drawn in lane 1, which meant that all my competitors were on my blind side. I was so focused on the hurdles that I didn’t pay much attention to anyone else but as I approached the half way point I glanced across to my right-hand side and as I couldn’t see anyone I realised that I was in the lead, which certainly concentrates the mind. Having successfully negotiated the remaining obstacles, I won the race by a large margin. Whilst the time of 61 seconds was not outstanding, this did however provide me and my coach, BS, with enough encouragement for me to start to train seriously for the event.

One such training session took place in early September 1990. It was still fairly warm so there was little chance of me doing myself an injury when attempting to clamber over the obstacles – or so I thought. I set off from the 400m hurdles start with the intention of going over the hurdles up to the 200m point in the race, and to do this several times depending on how well it went. The key to 400m hurdling is in the stride pattern. From the start line to the first hurdle took me something like 21 strides, and there after I settled into a regular stride pattern of 14 strides between each hurdle. Once I reached the 200m point in the race I would probably have to increase the number of strides to 15 between each hurdle as my legs tired and my stride length shortened. However, theory is fine but it is not always that simple in practice.

As dusk descended, I set off on my first run, counting my strides as I went along in order to give me practice at the stride pattern. After 17 or so strides I realised that I should be approaching the first hurdle but I couldn’t see one. “Trust BS, he’s forgot to put one out” I thought. But not more than a couple of strides later I knew I was wrong to think that of BS, for there appearing out of the gloom at great speed was the 3 feet high barrier. I had to make a split decision. I was too close to hurdle it properly, and probably too close and going too fast to side step it. If I had tried to do either I would have ended up on the floor wrapped around a hurdle which was not a pleasant prospect. Therefore, I opted for a straight forward dive over the hurdle. It hurt like hell but at least I knew what I was landing on and all I suffered were impact injuries not the alternative of impact plus entangling injuries.

That was the first sign that my sight was really starting to deteriorate to a disabling level from a sporting point of view, but further signs came on the football pitch. My real love had always been football. I had represented the school team for every year that I was at school, at one point even playing for the school sixth form 11 when I was in the third year. I was also picked for the county side and had, at every county match, scoured the sidelines for scouts who had the ability to make all my dreams come true. Maybe because the county manager played me as a holding midfield player, rather than my natural position of attacking midfielder, the scouts never turned up, or if they did they were not impressed enough to speak to me. Maybe it was because my ability to control the ball appeared to have worsened as I aged, which sounds rather counter intuitive, but I had definitely noticed it happening. Looking back, only being able to see out of one eye could not have helped with my ball control as only seeing in two dimensions meant I could not judge how fast a ball was moving towards me. Colliding with players who moved towards me on my blind side, even kicking players in the head who had stooped to head a ball on my right hand side and the abuse that followed, didn’t help my cause either. I had been just as good at rugby, but as soon as my school found out that I was blind in one eye they banned me from playing.

As the new football season started in early September I noticed that as I looked directly at the ball I couldn’t see all of it as the loss of vision was starting to spread further across my left eye. If I looked at the middle of the ball, I would only be able to see the left hand side of it. In order to see all the ball, I had to look upwards and to the right of the ball. Only then would all the ball be visible within the remaining field of vision that I had. The problem with relying on peripheral vision is that the further away from the focal point the object becomes, the less detail you can see, and trying to rely on peripheral vision only over long distances was of limited utility. The other problem was that the blind areas were broadly a grey colour, which meant that the sky and clouds that I could see didn’t particularly stand out from the blind areas that surrounded them, which just confused me.

At that point, my football had been limited to playing in the local Saturday afternoon league for the Rudston B team (a village near Bridlington), and I played for a Sunday league team made up of friends of both myself and my brother. The Sunday league team, which played in the Hull league, was quite a good team and I looked forward to the games every week. Towards the end of the previous season, I played with what had become usual sight for me. I couldn’t see anything out of my right eye, and I had started to lose the vision on the right hand side of my left eye. But this was not really a problem as I had started to play as an old fashioned right winger so as to open up the amount of the pitch that was in my field of vision. Using my pace I was the leading scorer for our team and the usual tactic was the long ball over the top for me to run onto using my superior speed, the only remaining task was to put the ball in the back of the net, which I seemed to do more often than not.

However, as my useful vision diminished, and I became more reliant upon peripheral vision, the tactic had to be adapted somewhat, as I required our defenders or midfielders to shout to let me know that the ball was coming my way over the top and, if they were able, to give me some indication of which way I should run, right, left or simply straight ahead. If they weren’t able to issue instructions quickly enough, I listened for the ball bouncing and then ran towards that noise and hoped that the ball would appear in my field of vision. It worked, to a point, and I kept on slamming in the goals and we kept on winning.

But it only worked for so long. Not long after my 21st birthday I played my last game of football, one of the things that saddens me the most. I often dream about playing football, and it is my favourite dream, even better than the Bay Watch dream. The freedom of being able to kick a ball, to control it and hit long passes, to float over the ground with the ball at my feet, pass a defender or two and then crash the ball into the back of the net – it’s really exhilarating. The down side of this is waking up. I always feel a great sense of loss after this dream and feel miserable for hours, but I suppose it’s worth it just to experience those feelings again.

My last match was played at South Hunsley school near Hull. By this time when I looked directly at the middle of the ball all I could see was the bottom left hand segment of the ball, maybe about 15% of the ball at best. It was against the league leaders and we were in second place. The game started well and after 10 minutes the ball was cleared by their defence, not very well as it happened, and I could just make out that the ball was coming towards me, begging to be smacked back from whence it had come. Instinctively I put my head down and swung my right foot at the ball, or where I thought it would be. The result was a 25 yard screamer into the top corner and I laid at the bottom of a mass of my team mates.

We were still winning 1-0 towards the end of the second half when our left winger went on one of his mazy runs. F went past five or six defenders from what I could make out, and then moving in from the left wing dribbled the ball past the goal keeper. However, he was at such an acute angle to the goal that he looked up and passed the ball to me as I was standing on the penalty spot with no defenders around me. I could have side footed it home, or blasted it, but I had started to lose confidence in my ability to see the ball coming, so I decided to control it as I had so much time. It turns out that I had made the wrong decision, as I managed using all my concentration to control the ball remarkably well, and I stood with the ball at my feet, with acres of room in front of an open goal. But there was one slight problem, where the bloody hell was the goal? I just couldn’t see it! There was green stuff, and above it grey stuff, but that was all I could make out. If the keeper had stood his ground I would have at least had a reference point upon which to focus, but he had most inconsiderably buggered off. I put my head down and hit the ball towards where the goal must surely be. However, as goals are not awarded for hitting corner flags the score remained 1-0.

I can still hear the laughter and shouts of “donkey, donkey” to this day – team mates can be so hurtful.

It was one of those defining moments in your life. It dawned on me that I was properly visually impaired. I turned and walked slowly towards the half way line with my thoughts blocking out the ridicule that was being hurled in my direction. I attempted to carry on and defend our one goal lead, but my confidence had totally gone by that point and I didn’t go anywhere near the action in truth. I walked off the pitch not able to join in our celebrations at going to the top of the league as I knew I would never play the beautiful game again. That was probably one of the lowest points during the loss of my sight.

As my sight continued to worsen on a daily basis through late 1990 and early 1991, the only sport that I could participate in was athletics, and that was becoming increasingly difficult. I felt compelled by something inside to try to carry on as normal for as long as I possibly could, but it was becoming increasingly scary to do so. The dilemma was to carry on and fight the fear, or take the fear away by giving up and giving in; the former feelings won the battle.

The only way I could do my athletics training during the winter when it was dark was to follow somebody who was wearing a bright top that I could make out well enough to feel safe. I didn’t tell anyone I was doing this, I just got on with it. I had to make excuses if we were supposed to do a road run to warm up, because the dazzling car headlights were all that I could see, trees, lamp posts, pedestrians, etc, were completely obscured. Whilst I could still see enough to safely negotiate my way around, even in darkness, when walking, trying to do this at speed proved to be a different matter. It only took one hazard to jump out at me from the shadows, be they real shadows or ones caused by my failing retinas, and my confidence would be shattered. A fake limp would suddenly appear and I would walk back to the stadium if on a road run, or back to the stands if doing a track session. I don’t think that I would have been able to continue running if I had remained partially sighted. There again, maybe I would have got used to it and the terrifying fear may have subsided. I suppose we will never know as events meant that I wouldn’t be running alone for much longer.

During a trip to Liverpool to meet an RNIB job advisor where we tried out some vision aids, part of the prolonged task of trying to find a way for me to return to work at the bank, my Mum had noticed a British Blind Sport magazine with a picture of a blind athlete, NT, on the front of it running. She read it to me on our long train journey home and made a note of the number for me to ring.

This was amazing news! I was ridiculously excited to think that blind people could do sport. Before this I suppose I was as ignorant, if not more so, than the average person with regards the capabilities of blind people. I rang the number as soon as I could.

Little did I know the chain of events that would unfurl from this one phone call and that within less than six months I would be the proud owner of a Great Britain tracksuit, a European gold medal and a World Record to boot! What a serendipitous event!

He’s behind me?! Oh no he isn’t, is he??!!

Four FB posts to start the long overdue weekend, and keep an eye out for the story of how I got into blind sport tomorrow ….

27 November 2014

Well, I suppose it’s almost Pantomime season … I managed to lose the dog this morning after I took him off his lead to explore the grassy area in the lemony snicket. I was calling him for ages, but there was no sign of him, and all the time he was … yes, you’ve guessed it … behind me!! I really should put a bell on the little fecker!

13 February 2015

I could tell I hadn’t been to the doctor’s for a while…. If smacking my shoulder on a lamp post and straying onto the odd road here and there on the outward journey wasn’t enough of a sign, then properly winding myself on the way back on a lamp post definitely sealed the deal!! I think I may have been relying on Alfie a bit more than I thought when we are out on walks together…. Who’d have thought it, that stupid dog being useful after all!!

17 February 2015

So uncoordinated this morning I wasn’t aware I was missing my cup with the kettle until the boiling water ran off the counter and on my foot – ouch! To make matters worse, after mopping up the water I knocked over my cup of tea! If I wasn’t so busy at work, I’d be back in bed right now – I think it’s going to be one of those days….

21 February 2015

J’s mum asked him if she could practice pedicures on him – “only if I can practice rugby tackles on you” was his brilliant response lol!

Cup of beetroot tea anyone?!

11 November 2014

I don’t know how I do these things, but somehow I managed to put sliced beetroot into my cup of tea this morning rather than into my salad!! I really should pack up in the evening rather than at 6.00 am!!

18 November 2014

Not sure what I stuck my finger in this morning, but it certainly wasn’t the beetroot I was looking for! It smelled really funky! Would have spoiled my salad, definitely!

22 November 2014

I don’t know how I do these things…. I managed to get pepper in my eye tonight whilst making my little Golden Balls a peppercorn sauce to go with his steak, and then got it in a cut as well!! It definitely hurt more in my eye. Hopefully it will all be worth it when GB plays like an animal at Drighlington tomorrow!

26 November 2014

A new first for me, being properly winded and almost going down like a sack of tatties after walking into what felt like a small pillar box – got me right in the solar plexus!! Not to be recommended, it still hurts now!

Twat beacon!!

Two more FB posts – apologies for the slightly colourful language, but it was deserved in both cases!

29 October 2014

There must have been a twats convention in Wakefield today, as I had my very own Inbetweeners “bus stop wankers” type moment on my way to the doctor’s this morning. I was walking down the street, minding my own business, lamp posts and thorn bushes, when a passing motorist hurled a load of abuse at me! Not more than two minutes later, another motorist, possibly the same one coming back for afters, hurled a load more abuse at me!! What a tool – it’s easy being hard when you’re already running away at 40 miles an hour!! I don’t think I regret pointing this out to them at great volume!

30 October 2014

M joined us at work today for work experience designing Valentine cards for the Card Shop in Sydney. I use a headset (replete with non-functioning microphone) to listen to my computer which, apparently, isn’t that becoming, as M has christened it “The Twat Beacon”, a reference to the fact that I have the redundant microphone pointing up in the air! You’ve got to love her!!

Bring on the picture round

I absolutely love quizzes, and I seem to be developing quite a remarkable specialism, as hardly a quiz ever passes by where I don’t get an obscure photo right!! Allow me to explain how the last week has seen three quizzes, three successful picture rounds for the blind quizzer!!

It always starts the same; my sighted colleagues fill in the answers for all that they know, and then, in what was originally a complete shot in the dark (no pun intended), they turn to me for divine inspiration.

In last Sunday night’s picture round, all the answers ended with either “er” or “re”.

“Right, there’s three that we can’t get. There’s a picture of a rugby player, with a beard; I think it’s a Harlequins top” A told me. My brain clunked for a while; Danny Care? My teammates weren’t convinced, but as they couldn’t think of anything better they put it down.

“Right, now we’ve got a jockey …. Oh no, there’s the Olympic rings, so I think he must be a show jumper. Looks like quite an old person A described. Again, my brain searched the memory banks; John Whittaker? Again, not convinced, the answer was written down.

“Finally, it’s a company logo. How can I describe it?” A was struggling. “It’s a letter “C”, with a cut off red rectangle in line with the C, and another cut off blue rectangle below it in line with the C”. Now when the quiz master had said that one of the pictures was a company logo, which ended in either “er” or “re”, the Commodore logo immediately appeared in my mind, or at least a rough approximation of it (Commodore being the maker of the cutting edge Commodore 64 computer of the 80s!).

“Does the rectangle bits look a bit like a plug” I asked, my recollection sort of reminding me of a plug.

“I suppose it could” said A. Again, with no confidence, Commodore was written down as our answer.

At last Tuesday night’s quiz, T told me “We’ve got to guess the TV programme. It’s a photo of a young boy sat on a bear”.

“A real bear, or a teddy bear” I asked.

“A real bear. It’s in chains” came the clarification. Gentle Ben?

In last night’s picture round, all the answers ended with “In”.

“It’s a football player in an Arsenal kit; he’s ugly” described J our team captain.

“Could he look Russian” I asked.

“I guess he could” said J. Andrei Arshavin?

The smile on my face was rather broad when the quiz master confirmed that all the above answers were correct, especially when we won last night’s quiz by a single point!! But it doesn’t matter if we win or not, getting a picture round question right feels like getting a dozen normal questions right to me and amuses me no end!!

My best ever performance was guessing 6 out of 10, this being based on the clue that all the answers contain a body part and some expert descriptions: Elbow (“four men, looks like a pop group”), Plymouth Argyle (“A badge with sail boats on”), Golden Eye (“A James Bond film”), Irene Handl (“Old woman, might have been in On the Buses”), Fiona Armstrong (“Looks like a newsreader, reasonably fit”), and an Earwig (An indistinguishable part of an animal apparently”)!! The other teams were demanding a drug test that night, I can tell you!!

Early onset incontinence? No, I’ve just burnt myself – phew!!

Four more FB posts, from a period when the ex and I were “trying” again ….

14 September 2014

Make us laugh Lee Mack! The ticket lady was right about these tickets having a restricted view, I can’t see anything!

28 September 2014

Watching Stephen Fry in Sheffield tonight. Everybody was given a free copy of the latest instalment of his autobiography. Whilst trying to find a shortcut out of the hall, we were ushered to the front of the queue to get our books signed. After a fellow blinkie with a guide dog had his book signed we stepped forward. I stood with my white stick SF said “you’re not the only shepherd I know with a dog”. I looked bemused. “David Blunkett” he said. “How long have you had your dog” he said. “I married her 20 years ago” – good old l’esprit de l’escalier!!

29 September 2014

Flipping heck, that was a bit scary – I just thought I’d peed myself!! I was making a pot of tea, when after a short while I started to feel a warm sensation spreading down my leg. I thought I had suddenly become incontinent until it started burning, and then I realised that I’d missed the tea pot and boiling water was spreading across and off the work surface!!

8 October 2014

An old git I may be, but I can still equal my bench press PB of 100kg – get in ! The only difference is that I won’t be able to sleep tonight, even after ice packs and 4 nurofens!!