Bethan Jones participates in Fitmums and Friends and Sight Support's SocialEyes, an exercise program that is run with the support of volunteers.
Bethan has kindly given her time to speak about what an impact these volunteers have in making this social exercise program not just possible, but enjoyable too.
"For those with visual impairment, participating in exercise activities designed for fully sighted people can be very challenging. With limited vision, it is difficult to navigate studio spaces and gyms where there are moveable obstacles such as kettlebells, free weights, blocks and mats in unpredictable places. Low lighting can often pose problems. Busy sessions can be stressful and hazardous. It is also easy to assume that many sports and fitness activities are inaccessible to those with compromised vision. I have only discovered in the past two years how many opportunities there are locally to participate in adaptive sports and supported exercise sessions. For me, this discovery has been transformative.
Before encountering the SocialEyes exercise program run by Fitmums in collaboration with Sight Support, I had stopped attending fitness classes and terminated my gym membership. Now, I attend visually impaired tennis sessions, circuit training at Warners gym and running/walking at Costello stadium."
These activities rely on a team of willing and experienced volunteers who make it possible for a range of people with very different visual conditions to participate. The leaders of these sessions ensure that activities are safe and manageable without reducing the intensity levels for those who wish to push themselves.
"Volunteers help participants to navigate spaces, avoid obstacles, find equipment and execute activities correctly. At Costello, guide runners make it possible for blind or VI people to run at their own pace without worrying about deviating from the track. Recently, I participated in a park run in quite dark and wet conditions. Without support, I would have struggled and would certainly not have enjoyed the experience. However, I was assisted by Fitmums volunteers who helped me to navigate the course despite the difficult conditions. Volunteers and guides always seem amazingly intuitive and sensitive to the requirements of those they are helping in such circumstances.
It is important to emphasise that the activities described above all have a social dimension – that motivation is heightened by the fun we all have and the ongoing friendships that are made in and after these sessions.
The impact of these activities and the support I have received has been immeasurable. My physical health has improved a good deal over the past two years and I look forward to every session. I have always loved sport and now feel less resentful of my sight loss given that it is not preventing me from continuing with some of my favourite activities. I also feel that I achieve a better work-life balance currently.
Without volunteers and guides, none of this would be possible and I am extremely grateful to them for improving my quality of life to such a degree."