Guest blogger: Paralympic cyclist Sophie Thornhill shares her story
November 9, 2017

At the age of 18, para-cyclist Sophie Thornhill had already secured two world titles, in the tandem kilo and sprint, and broken two world records in the process. Find out about Sophie’s visual impairment, and what this meant for her growing up, and how her career has sky-rocketed in this, her exclusive guest blog post for Living Paintings.

Sophie Thornhill with a medal

First of all, I wanted to talk a little bit about my visual impairment. I have a condition called Oculocutaneous Albinism, the condition affects the pigment in my hair, eyes and skin meaning I have pale skin, blue eyes and ginger hair – I’m a very proud ginger! The condition also affects my vision; my vision is something I find hard to explain to others, as I don’t know what they see and find it difficult to compare. My visual impairment has lead to some difficult situations for me growing up and even now in my early 20s. What I’ve always found hard, and still do, is finding people in busy situations. This has varied from finding my friends in the playground at school to finding the right platform in the train station. When I was at school I had a great group of friends who were very understanding about my visual impairment, however, this doesn’t mean that they always remembered; finding them was always difficult but eventually, we agreed upon a meeting place every break and lunchtime. This is a great tip for anyone who is struggling with similar situations.

I often get asked would you change your sight if you could. I find this question hard to answer. In some ways I would fix it in a heartbeat; it would solve all those problems seeing bus and train timetables. On the other hand, I wouldn’t change it for anything, it is who I am and has lead to becoming a Paralympic champion. I have always loved sport from football to judo. I’ve never let my sight get in the way of enjoying sport and neither should you! I found that cycling was the one sport that I was the best at an enjoyed the most. I gave track cycling a go back in 2009 and absolutely loved it; the adrenaline rush was what I fell in love with. I was incredibly lucky to have the help of the local club in Manchester, SportCity Velo as well as many kind pilots – who ride on the front of the tandem – they helped me to reach the heights that I have. The one who really stands out for me is Pete Boyd. He helped me train and do what I loved. Thank you Pete! I progressed through the GB Team development programmes and made my international debut in 2013; this was the start of an incredible journey to becoming a Paralympian. Since my debut, I have become 7x World Champion, 2x Commonwealth Champion, and Gold and Bronze medallist at the Paralympic Games.

When I was growing up I enjoyed books however, I found it hard to read a lot as I couldn’t read for a prolonged period of time without getting a headache. I eventually found audiobooks but I never had anything like Living Paintings’ Touch to See books. To be able to read a book through touch is amazing; using a combination of brail and 3D images is incredible. I have tested these books out on other people who have full vision and they could pick up the topic of the book thanks to the quality of the 3D aspects. I also love the range of books that Living Paintings have created from tips about healthy eating to the Spot books. These books allow blind or visually impaired people to step into the world of books and stories in a new and vibrant way. Not only are the books tactile but also the bright colours and large writing help those who will be able to read text. What makes these books even better is that Living Paintings loan them out for free! This allows even more people to have the opportunity read.

Knowing that books like these are available is wonderful to hear and I can’t wait to hear what Living Paintings do next.

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