I tried my hand at tennis when I was 10. I was good at all the individual skills like bouncing a ball on the racket, throwing the ball up for a serve and sprinting around the court, but returning a ball over the net was literally ‘hit and miss’. Not understanding that I had a vision problem, it puzzled me why I could not consistently get the ball onto the racket strings. It was as though my racket had no strings at all! I practiced at home against a wall and my friend across the road taught me a useful ball skills game called sevens that I thought would rectify my frustrations. I played it for hours on end and with little success on the tennis court. Later that summer I broke my arm and was quite relieved that I could not play tennis and I didn’t have to give up by choice.
For 2 years I unconsciously avoided ball sport in favour of gross motor skills and spent a lot of time upside down walking on my hands, climbing up trees, playing in the pool till the sun went down or careering around the suburb on a bicycle with friends. In those days TV only started at 7pm so being active was a good way to avoid homework. I have many fond memories of the antics we got up to (thanks to my friends at Rembrandt Park Primary School)
In standard four I tentatively signed up to play hockey – there were no strings on a hockey stick. I loved it! I played in a forward position so as long as the ball was on my stick close to my feet, or moving into my peripheral vision, I could generally see it and the goalposts were more of a peripheral vision thing anyway so I had an idea where they were. I was a little too successful for my own liking as I landed up being the only standard 4 girl, and not a confident one at that, in a team of standard 5‘s. The following year was much more fun as my friends were also in the team.
Initially I did not sign up for High School hockey. I was very fit from running (probably next blog) so when I took up hockey again 3 years later, I did well. I could not see the ball on the other side of the field, but by inference, the ‘people shaped smudges’ that moved the quickest was where the ball must be. I ran after anything that was white and moving on a green field. White fantail pigeons and wind swept litter were at risk! By this stage, my team mates would call my name before they passed the ball to me which was really helpful. In my Standard 9 year I made the Nuggets Schools Hockey team and landed up going on tour with strangers who knew nothing about my sight problem. That in itself was scary as I was really afraid of getting separated from the team. I never even went to the bathroom alone. . Oh Shucks, I wish I had been honest with them and myself. It was only when we played an evening game in Durban, on dry, brown grass under yellow floodlights with a yellow ball that I had to tell the coaches that I could not play because I could not see the ball. The coaches were annoyed and I think they felt betrayed that I had not told them about my eyesight problem before. If I had made them aware of this we may have been able to play with a red ball. The following year I did not even sign up for trials as the social stresses and explaining the situation was just too taxing for me.
Somehow, in my matric year, I was picked as captain for the first hockey team, but always had to ask the vice-captain where the opposing captain was so that we could do the coin toss – I couldn’t even see the ‘flipping’ coin!! It was super ridiculous!! How could my pretence have been so far from my reality?
Playing ball sport is still fun for me … especially if the ball is big, bold and moving across my vision! My love for sport was also the impetus for my studies and later employment. I even used the game called “sevens” in teaching ball skills to junior school children. I have no regrets that I played ball sports, but only that I was not ‘on the ball’ enough about coping with the reality of my fading sight.
So, my message to any VIP’s (visually impaired persons) reading this is: continue to throw yourself into whatever you enjoy, but be open, be honest and unapologetic about letting others into your world. This is better for building trusting relationships and there are no Brownie points for being a lone hero!