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After an extreme episode of illness, Lizzi spent the past four years adapting to a whole new way of life, living with a newly acquired impairment of sight loss. She found this transition from being fully sighted to having no sight incredibly difficult.
In September 2017, I suffered from a life-changing illness which resulted in complete sight loss. I contracted a rare form of E-Coli from food poisoning, leaving me in a three-month coma on full life support battling multiple organ failure.
Whilst in the coma, my physical state deteriorated as I lost over three stone in weight and muscle. I was already petite before my illness. Long months of rehabilitation were to follow. I had to start by just learning to lift my head again and eventually standing on my own two feet.
These early stages of rehabilitation served to be a huge turning point in my life. This was the point where I decided that my newly acquired disability would not hold me back or define me. Instead, it would make me. I realised that my life now without sight would be much more challenging, but I used this as the fuel to push myself to achieve more than I ever thought I could, even with my sight.
Sport was my saviour when I was making my comeback from this devastating setback. I wanted to give myself a goal, something to work towards and provide me with a sense of fulfilment at the end. I first took up the challenge of running with the dream of running the London marathon one day. Running was appealing to me as it was free, could be taken at my own pace, and could be done locally.
For me this activity required a sighted guide, although in general, it is a very versatile sport that people with a variety of impairments can enjoy. I started my running off by attending my local park run, which is a 5km course. It can be completed in any time and at any pace to suit each runner.
Of course, my first attempt at this was slow, but this didn’t matter to me. I realised it was a remarkable achievement to cover the distance just eight months after learning to walk again. It did not take long for me to fall in love with running, I grew to love the feeling of freedom it gave me and the surge of adrenaline I felt as I crossed the finish line.
As months went by, my fitness and confidence grew, and I began participating in longer runs and even some races. In March 2019 I completed my first half marathon, and in April 2019 I fulfilled my dream of running the London marathon alongside my sighted guide. After everything I had been through, it was the most incredible achievement and was a huge testimony to my resilience and determination. I thoroughly enjoyed my running journey and kick-started an exciting road ahead with even more accomplishments.
A new passion
Before losing my sight, I never had such an extreme interest in sport, although I became passionate about exploring other sporting opportunities after my running endeavours. However, It was a sad realisation when I lost my sight that some activities would now be seemingly impossible, such as riding a bike.
During my rehabilitation, I used the gym as I felt it was a safe environment to build my confidence on stationery machines. I particularly enjoyed the stationary bike, and I began thinking of how I could take cycling further.
With my newly reformed mindset of adapting, I discovered tandem cycling, which involves a double bike with a sighted cyclist on the front and a blind cyclist on the back. After a small amount of research, I came across a local company that rented out tandem bicycles and became very excited at the prospect of trying one out. My first experience on the back of a tandem was the most liberating feeling ever, and the independence it granted me was priceless. The high speeds the tandem reached perfectly satisfied my inner daredevil, and my heart became set on taking this sport further.
A way forward
What happened next is something again that I wouldn’t expect in my wildest of dreams, but again is a stark example of the doors that sport can open. It all began with me hearing from a local sight charity about an opportunity for a blind individual to trial for a tandem racing team.
After some research, I discovered this was an amazing opportunity to trial for team Great Britain’s para-cycling team. At this point, I was still very new to tandem cycling, but it reassured me to be told that experience was not compulsory. I knew I had to seize this once in a lifetime opportunity, so I travelled up to Manchester with a very open mind. It took much courage to take this huge step, but it proved to be the best decision I have ever made. The trials were a big success, and I ended up being offered a place on the Great Britain foundation para-cycling team with hopes of competing in international competitions and the Paralympic games in the future.
Training for this includes an intense schedule of five days a week training and regular trips to Manchester for training in the velodrome. This massive advance in my sporting career has not only been significant in improving my health, but it has also been extremely significant in improving my quality of life. It has broadened my social network and provided me with a great opportunity to meet other people with different impairments.
I realise that my sporting journey is a rather extreme example of how you can get active and into sport.
However, I do feel passionate about demonstrating the power of sport and how it can influence your life. Throughout my entire journey of rehabilitation from my illness, I have faced many physical and mental hurdles. I have learnt that you should embrace and appreciate what your body can do instead of focusing on what it may not be able to do at every stage of your life.
Sport has taught me that my body is a powerful tool, and I must utilise it to push myself to achieve more than I ever thought possible.