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Empowering Athletes of All Ages: Vision Sports Ireland – Portlaoise

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Vision Sports Ireland, in collaboration with Laois Sports Partnership, Portlaoise Athletics Club, Athletics Ireland, and the LOETB (Laois and Offaly Education and Training Board), embarked on a remarkable journey by introducing an eight-week athletics program in Portlaoise. This collaborative effort aimed to provide individuals of all ages, with vision impairments, the opportunity to engage in a programme which included all aspects of Athletics including running, jumping, and throwing. The program, which began with a Guide Running Workshop and training for volunteers, was launched in July and exceeded all expectations.

The program’s inclusive nature was evident from its inception. To ensure the successful integration of vision impaired athletes into the world of athletics, a Guide Running Workshop was conducted, equipping volunteers with the necessary skills and knowledge to assist and support the athletes effectively. This workshop laid the foundation for the exceptional program that followed.

One of the standout features of the program was its inclusivity across age groups. A total of 23 athletes, ranging in age from 5 to 66 years old, participated each week on the Portlaoise athletics track. This broad age range demonstrated the program’s accessibility, showing that the desire to participate in athletics knows no age limits.

The program covered a wide range of athletics disciplines, encompassing 100m, 200m and 400m running, long jump, javelin and discus throwing. This comprehensive approach allowed athletes to explore various aspects of athletics, promoting a holistic approach to physical activity. It not only catered to those seeking competitive opportunities but also created a space for leisure and recreation.

Vision Sports Ireland Athletics Program Portlaoise

From its very inception, the program was met with enthusiasm and success. The athletes, alongside dedicated volunteers and coaches, demonstrated unwavering commitment and determination. They exhibited a desire to excel in the world of athletics, and their achievements were a testament to their hard work.

To set up an Inclusive athletics program there are five main steps to follow, contacting stakeholders, identifying volunteers and coaches, education and training for volunteers and coaches, set up of a come and try event with help from stakeholders, and set up of an ongoing program. For more information, please email a member of the Vision Sports Ireland team or check out our website.

Adaptations can be made to the sport to make it more accessible for athletes with a vision impairment, adaptations such as using more audio description and less visual cues. Guide runners and assistant coach’s cam be utilised. Equipment such as running tethers, high viz jackets for coaches and colour contrasting comes can have a hugely positive benefit for vision impaired athletes.

The primary goal of the program was to create opportunities for vision impaired athletes. It did not only focus on competition but also recognised the importance of community engagement, leisure, and recreation. This approach not only encouraged physical fitness but also contributed to the athletes’ overall well-being. It allowed them to engage with the sport in a manner that suited their individual goals and interests.

The success of the program can be attributed to the collaborative efforts of Portlaoise Athletics Club, Vision Sports Ireland, Athletics Ireland, and the LOETB. These organisations, coming together, demonstrated a shared vision of inclusivity and empowerment. Their combined expertise, resources, and dedication made this program a reality, changing the lives of the participants and leaving an enduring impact on the community.

Treacy Percy – Testimonial

Portlaoise Athletics hub is one of the most successful programs I have been involved with.  It means so much to our athletes and volunteers from watching a child throw their first javelin, to running alongside a gentleman 66 years of age.  The program catered for everyone from totally blind adults who just wanted to take part to our teenagers who wanted to win.  I have loved every minute of it, talking to coaches and supporting them on their journey to laughing with athletes and parents.  It truly has changed the local community and opened up possibilities for all involved. For me as a visually impaired coach I felt at home, I felt I could give advice because this is how I learned or how I found it worked for me.

One thing about a visually impaired athlete, we are excellent around grit and determination, we want to achieve, we want to push the limits.  I witnessed parents saying “No, my child definitely can’t throw or run that distance” at the beginning of the program, to parents cheering and crying with delight as the child crossed the line or got a personal best.  I’ve handed tissues to coaches and volunteers as they ran side by side with their athlete. We have created a strong team of all ages and abilities, but we are a team, and we are only going to get bigger and stronger.

The Vision Sports Ireland Athletics Program in Portlaoise exemplifies the transformative power of collaboration and inclusivity. It provided individuals with vision impairments the opportunity to engage in athletics, offering a comprehensive experience that catered to all age groups and interests. The success of the program demonstrates that when organisations and communities come together with a shared vision, they can break down barriers, create opportunities, and empower individuals to achieve their athletic goals. This program not only impacted the lives of its participants but also served as an inspiration for others to embrace the spirit of inclusivity and determination. If you want to get involved in volunteering or inviting people with a vision impairment into your athletics club, please contact Vision Sports Ireland.

Plans for 2024

Training resumes this Saturday April 20th for athletes with a Vison Impairment and also those with a Physical Disability. Open to athletes from all over the country, not just the Portlaoise area. For more details contact Sean.moyles@visionsports.ie.

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