Lucy Hodges blind sailor win gold medals.
During a rare spell of sunny hot weather in England, gold medalist Lucy Hodges takes the helm of a monohull off the coast of the Isle of Wight.
She makes the task of steering a yacht look easy as it sails smoothly to a buoy just 100 yards ahead, despite the Solent’s tidal changes, strong winds and notorious Bramble Bank sandbar.
But it’s not as easy a task as you might think.
“When you drive a car you keep the wheel straight when you want to go straight” she told CNN Sport, “but when you’re driving a yacht there’s lots of different elements that change the force.”
There’s another complication for Hodges though — she can’t see the buoy. In fact she also can’t clearly see the coastline surrounding her.
Born with photophobia nystagmus — a condition that causes involuntary movement of the eyes and affects eyesight — it’s here, on the water, where Hodges has always felt most independent.
“They won’t let me drive a car around the M25 by myself but they’ll let me drive a boat by myself around a racetrack,” she reflects.
“When you’re on land everything is moving but when you’re out on the boat, things are changing but it’s changing with the wind and for natural reasons.”
Hodges instead relies on her other senses — touch and sound — to navigate when she’s racing.
“You find that people with visual impairment tend to take the natural senses that they use to compensate for not having sight. We naturally feel the breeze on our faces and we listen to how the boats are moving through the water and we feel the boat through our body.”
She says there’s no better feeling than being on the water.
“It’s leaving your white stick and your dog on the shore and going out being part of a crew, being part of a team — you can literally compete alongside anyone.”
It had always been Hodges’ dream to win the World and International Blind Sailing Championships and in 2013 she achieved just that when her team won gold in Japan at the Blind Sailing World Championship.
She accomplished it again in 2017 in the US after a convincing victory in the B2 division where competitors have limited vision.