LIFESTYLE
19/03/2018 15:16 SAST | Updated 19/03/2018 15:29 SAST

This Is What Visually Impaired Paralympic Skier Menna Fitzpatrick Sees When She Competes

Fitzpatrick and her guide, Jennifer Kehoe, won gold at the PyeongChang Winter Paralympics on Sunday.

Adam Davy - PA Images via Getty Images
Menna Fitzpatrick (right) with her guide Jennifer Kehoe (left).

Watching visually-impaired skier Menna Fitzpatrick hurtle towards gold at the Winter Paralympics on Sunday was already heart-in-mouth stuff, but her achievement is even more impressive when you gain an insight into how she sees the course.

The athlete, 19, only has around 3% vision, meaning she has to place an enormous amount of trust in her guide, Jen Kehoe, as she navigates each event at speeds sometimes reaching 100km per hour. 

Now, Fitzpatrick has shown fans what it’s really like being a visually-impaired skier, by sharing a series of photos and videos on Instagram designed to mimic her view. 

Fitzpatrick and Kehoe won gold in the women’s visually impaired slalom, adding to their already successful Pyeongchang Paralympics. The pair had already won two silvers and a bronze in South Korea and the videos detail how Kehoe communicates with Fitzpatrick via bluetooth headset.

Kehoe can be heard giving Fitzpatrick instructions on what is coming up next on the course and telling her when to turn. Fitzpatrick will reply back detailing when she has completed a turn and give her guide instructions on whether to slow down or speed up.

The ‘See Like Menna’ photos and videos have been created as part of Toyota’s #StartYourImpossible campaign. The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) worked with the brand, Fitzpatrick and Kehoe to create the audio description for some clips. 

Sonali Rai, RNIB’s audio description manager, said: “Menna’s uplifting story of her Paralympic achievement shows that being blind isn’t a barrier to sporting success. It’s great to know that Menna and her guide Jen were so closely involved in the creative process.” 

Fitzpatrick dominated the women’s skiing alongside fellow visually-impaired GB team member Millie Knight and her guide Brett Wild, who picked up two silver and one bronze medal. Speaking to HuffPost UK before the Games, Knight explained how the guide system works. 

“Brett will say whatever he sees in front of him - all the important things that he needs to tell me - and then I will say back to him our distance, whether we’re too close, too far, whether we’re going too slowly, too quickly. All of that happens in a fraction of a second,” she said.

Wild added: “I have to not only look at what’s coming up, [but] I have to turn around to see where Millie is. So, I’m trying to look behind me and I’m trying to look in front of me at the same time as listening to her telling me to speed up or slow down. There’s a lot happening at once.”