Imagine skiing down a mountain at 100 km/h. Now imagine doing that with only 3 percent of your vision. That’s what it’s like for 18-year-old British Para-alpine skier, Menna Fitzpatrick, who’s Instagram account gives you a glimpse into her life as a Paralympic athlete. Her account, @seelikemenna, is part of a collaboration with Toyota to highlight the challenges she faces as she races for gold.
The Problem: Menna Fitzpatrick was born with congenital retinal folds. A condition which has left her with no vision in her left eye and limited sight in her right eye. In the US alone, the National Federation of The Blind estimates that about 10 million Americans are blind or visually impaired. Fitzpatrick ski’s with a guide in front of her as she weaves her way through narrow gates. She learned how to ski when she was 5 years by closely following her Dad on family holidays.
The Approach: The account, which has 41 posts so far, is a mix of photographs and short clips. The videos are truly remarkable as you get a sense of what her life is like – from traveling and doing weighted sit-ups to preparing food and slashing down the mountain with her sighted guide, Jennifer Kehoe, shouting instructions (on the right side, as she can’t see the gates on her left).
In one post, Fitzpatrick writes: “I may only have 3% vision, but my sighted guide Jen and I still reach top speeds of 100 km/h. That’s faster than you can say PyeongChang Winter Games!” In another one she writes: “The brighter the orange, the better I can see my sighted guide Jen on the slopes.” A visually impaired (VI) athlete usually skis 3-8 metres behind the guide, following the line of the skis and listening to the instructions given as they race down the course.
A custom visual impairment ‘filter’ was created in collaboration with the Royal National Institute for the Blind in London and a team of ophthalmic consultants in order to convey her perception of the world as closely as possible.
To futher demonstrate the varying degrees of visual impairments, Toyota also created a 360-video that includes Paralympic athletes Marek Kubacka from Slovania and Maciej Krezel from Poland. The clip explains that there are three categories (VI) athletes compete in: B1 – the athlete has minimal or no vision or light perception; B2 – the athlete has less than 5% vision in both eyes, and B3 – the athlete has less than 10% vision in both eyes. Fitzpatrick is considered a B2 VI athlete.
The Feel Good: From running in the dark to swooshing down the mountain, @Seelikemenna is a unique window into the life of a Paralympic athlete, reminding us in many ways how fortunate we are, but also reminding us how far we can push our own capabilities. , the Instagram account is part of Toyota’s larger ongoing ‘Mobility For All' initiative to inspire people to achieve their dreams while sharing the empowering stories of athletes like Lauren Woolstencroft and Andrea Eskau, who are pushing the boundaries of mobility.