Sean has very limited vision and has acuity of 2/60, meaning that he can see at 2 metres what a person with normal vision can see at 60 metres. Learning to cope with the loss of his sight has meant making huge adjustments. Sean has had to conquer many fears and overcome difficulties with mobility and orientation as well as deal with a big loss of confidence. He has had to learn new ways to do everything and even simple tasks like travelling independently by bus have proved to be big challenges. But Sean is determined not to let his condition dictate his life.
Keen to stay physically active, Sean started playing goalball – a team sport for visually impaired athletes which was invented in an effort to rehabilitate World War II veterans who had lost their sight. Players compete in teams of three, and the aim is to throw a ball with bells embedded in it into the opponents’ goal using the sound of the bells to judge the ball’s position and movement. All players wear blindfolds to allow partially and fully sighted players to compete on an equal footing with blind players.
Sean continued with goalball for the Physical Recreation section of his Duke of Edinburgh’s Hillary Award, as the Award is known in New Zealand, and realised that other young people with visual impairments would benefit from an initiative specifically tailored to their needs. He made it his mission to provide a recreational outlet for blind and visually impaired young people who might otherwise feel isolated and lonely in New Zealand society and in 2009, as part of his Silver Award, set up Project Vision Challenge.
Project Vision Challenge
Passionate about his sport, Sean coaches several junior players, all of whom have vision impairments. The project gives young people with visual impairments an opportunity to take part in a leisure activity and play an active sport with peers despite the physical challenges they face. He is a positive role model to the younger students and uses his influence to help others with visual impairments and encourage more players to join the sport. Last year, Sean’s group invited fully sighted children and young people to try goalball and since all were blindfolded, no one was at a great disadvantage – it was a competitive, even playing field. It was also an opportunity for the fully sighted players to appreciate the life challenges that visually impaired young people have to overcome.
Several of the junior players Sean coaches have gone on to play at a higher level and Sean himself has been selected for the New Zealand Development Squad which is training to compete internationally. In 2010 he was chosen to travel to Australia to represent New Zealand – a significant achievement.
Thinking about the future
Sean hopes to introduce the sport to many more young people, visually impaired and fully sighted, and looks forward to competing for his country in the future. While his involvement in the Award challenged him considerably, he says he is glad he continued to push himself and test his limits:
“I would say it’s a good opportunity to meet great people, challenge yourself, and have loads of fun on the way. Having done the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, I feel it has given me the confidence, skills and the right attitude to go out into the world and seek out what I want to accomplish in life. As well as meeting wonderful people who have changed and influenced my life… I have a greater appreciation for life.”
Sean is looking forward to starting at Canterbury University where he will study accounting, economics, marketing and business, and continue to grow the sport of goalball, making it accessible to more young people.