My name is Jen and – unusually enough for #MyBlindStory – I’m not blind. I’m sighted (albeit short-sighted) and I’m a serving Officer in the Royal Engineers. I was released from traditional military duties for two years after being scouted as a sighted ski guide for para alpine athlete Menna.
However, although I’m not blind, visual impairment and blindness has had a huge impact on my world. As a teenager, I sailed competitively – and once continued in a race even after my glasses were knocked off part-way through. I literally couldn’t see a thing and had to rely on my crew to point out any obstacles. I’d be legally blind if my eyesight wasn’t correctable, so without my glasses or contacts you could say I struggle!
I’ve fought my whole life, however, to prove that my eyesight shouldn’t be a barrier to anything I want to do. Sadly, people haven’t always had the same view: I was originally rejected by the Royal Navy for being too short-sighted! However, here I am now, a serving Army Officer, having completed a tour of Afghanistan and representing Great Britain in sport. Working with Menna in the arena of professional para snowsports has been the most amazing, exhilarating experience – one I could never have anticipated being part of. Visual impairment and blindness brought us here, and it’s been a phenomenal journey!
I’m Menna, and I was born with congenital retinal folds. I have no sight in my left eye and limited sight in my right. Growing up, I struggled at school because of my visual impairment. Reading was particularly tortuous – I could only take in one word at a time, and then my brain would “stitch” everything together at the end of a sentence. As you can imagine, it was a slow and tedious process and took a lot more effort than it would for a sighted person. I also had a bit of a tough time socially – even something as simple as seeking out my friends in the playground was difficult.
However, I’ve always been a determined so-and-so and I learned to ski behind my dad at the age of five. I think he used to forget I was tailing him and he’d go off-piste and plow through the powder snow without realizing I was only a couple of feet behind him! I told my parents from quite a young age that I was going to be a paralympic skier and I’m lucky in that they’ve always been very supportive of me.
Just because I can’t see the stars doesn’t mean I can’t reach for them is a mantra of mine and, after winning one gold, two silvers and a bronze with Jen in the Pyeongchang Paralympics, I can say it’s served me well! This is #MyBlindStory.
Menna and Jen are Para-Alpine World Cup ski racers, representing Great Britain with the British Para-Snowsport Team. Menna is blind, and Jen is her sighted guide. They work as a team to complete the race course as fast as possible while both crossing the finish line safely. You can follow their adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.