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'You don't have to be limited' - Orla on track for Paralympics

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Orla Comerford competed in the Rio Paralympics in 2016

Orla Comerford competed in the Rio Paralympics in 2016

�INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Orla Comerford competed in the Rio Paralympics in 2016

Howth native Orla Comerford is making strides towards achieving her goal of competing in the Paralympic Games in Tokyo next August.

The talented sportswoman is visually impaired after being diagnosed with Stargardt disease at the age of just 11, and has been training hard to meet her target.

"I want to show other young people living with sight loss that they don't have to be limited by their condition. They can achieve anything if they work hard enough," the 23-year-old student said.

She previously competed at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games where she made it through to the final of the T13 100m sprint.

This year's games had to be rescheduled because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the team selection for the 2021 games will take place next summer.

"I will spend April, May, June competing hopefully either nationally or internationally in order to secure a high performance standard, and run as often as I can to obviously increase my chances of being selected.

"The team will probably be selected around June," she said.

Orla said her sight continues to deteriorate gradually over time.

Lucky

"That's the thing with my condition, it's degenerative.

"I am very lucky in that I haven't had any sudden drop-offs or losses of a huge amount of sight over a small amount of time since I was 11. Once I realised I had the impairment, I lost quite a bit of sight quite quickly.

"Since then I haven't had that drastic loss really

quickly, so I suppose when it happens gradually and slowly over time, you do notice it less I think.

"Sometimes I will have a realisation, I used to be able to see something, but I can't see it any more, but I can't remember the last time I was able to see that.

"It does happen gradually so it's less noticeable.

"My level of vision is quite good in terms of getting around.

"Most people who meet me wouldn't know I have a visual impairment.

"My peripheral vision is quite good. But my central vision is quite poor. It would be blurry and I have kind of a blind spot in the centre. So reading or seeing detail, that is where my main issues would be."

Orla is an ambassador for Fighting Blindness, which will be holding a virtual conference next month for people with sight loss and their families.

The Retina 2020 conference takes place virtually on Saturday November 7. It will be officially opened by international rugby star, Ian McKinley.

It takes place against a backdrop of 240,000 people in Ireland living with sight loss. People can register to attend for free at fightingblindness.ie


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