A pioneering sports club is playing an integral part in transforming the lives of their visually impaired players and raising awareness of their capabilities.
Croysutt Warriors captain Thomas Britton’s loss of sight saw him fall into depression.
Goalball is the only Paralympic sport specifically designed for visually impaired people and when the club became the first formed in London in 2015, it took the pressure off the father-of-five who didn’t have to worry about his sight fading.
“The sport itself has really helped me,” said Mr Britton. “I was diagnosed with depression and I was very introverted. I didn’t want to socialise or even talk to my family. I felt that when I lost my sight, my life was coming to an end.
“When I started playing goalball, I realised that there were so many people out there that are going through sight loss. Goalball opened up a whole new world for me in terms of sport that I can do and will always be able to do regardless of my sight.”
Goalball is played on a court nine meters wide and 18 meters long. A three-a-side sport, the objective is to roll the ball – containing bells – into the opponents’ goal. All players wear eyeshades using sound to track its movement. Each game lasts between four and 12 minutes.
Mr Britton, 39, a former chef from Croydon, lost all sight in his right eye, has deteriorating vision in his left eye because of the hereditary condition that will soon mean he is completely blind.
Mr Britton – who teaches goalball around the country – said along with weight loss and confidence, the sport raises awareness of what visually impaired people are capable of.
He said: “Over the last five years I’ve reinvented myself and I literally mean a transformation. I’ve gone from a reclusive, ex-chef who was depressed and didn’t talk to his family to an outgoing, almost eccentric person who likes to joke with people.
“At our club it’s had a profound effect on how much people now know about visual impairment and how to treat visually impaired people and even to ask what capabilities a person has without assuming.
“It’s like the old saying ‘walk a mile in my shoes’, sighted people get to experience our world. That has a knock-on effect because once they are more aware of visual impairment, they become more aware of other disabilities and people so it’s such an amazing tool.”