White Water Rafting at the Lee Valley White Water Centre

On Saturday 20th May, a group of brave ELVis members set out to Lee Valley White Water Centre, ready to spend their afternoon having a go at white water rafting. This was organised with Metro Blind Sport thanks to a grant we received from the Primary Club.

For most participants it was their first time white water rafting, and people were understandably nervous. Once we’d arrived at the centre, everybody changed into their wetsuits (never an enjoyable task!), and then received a briefing from our raft guide, Tom. Tom was very friendly and helpful, explaining everything thoroughly and letting people get a feel of the raft and paddles on dry land, before getting into the water and practising their skills on the flat, calm surface of the lake.

Once everybody was confident manoeuvring the raft, it was time for the swim test, where they had to jump or slide into fast-moving water and then grab a rope that was thrown out to them. This really did test people’s courage, and it is to everybody’s credit that they all had a go and completed it successfully.

Ian Francis, Sports Development Officer at Metro Blind Sports said, “Jumping into fast moving and noisy white water, with sight loss, takes courage and conviction! Well done to all who took part and overcame their fear.”

Photo of ELVis intern Ray falling back into the fast-moving water.

The group paddled the raft through the Legacy Course several times, and it appeared that all were enjoying themselves. Each participant had the opportunity to swap seating positions, as well as sit at the front of the raft and experience the thrashing of the water. Lily, an ELVis service user and participant, described it as a “scary but memorable experience”. In addition, there was a moment when it looked like the raft was going to capsize, however thanks to Tom’s speedy reaction he was able to instruct the group to prevent this from happening.

Photo of the group with raft guide Tom paddling through the rapids.

Eventually, feeling exhausted but very pleased with themselves, everybody left the water to get dry and buy themselves a well-deserved hot drink before we headed home. Nicola Stokes from ELVis said, “It’s been fantastic to see how everybody today has worked together as a team, and to hear everyone laughing so much!”

Written by Nicola Stokes and Ray Calamaan

Bhavini’s Experience at the RP Fighting Blindness Conference

The RP Fighting Blindness Charity held its first Families Conference earlier this month which saw around 30 families come together to meet others who have similar Retinal Dystrophies all going through the same situations.

Guest speakers shared their knowledge on the latest research, genetic counselling, support services available to both adults and children affected, as well as inspirational stories from those living with RP but have gone on to achieve their ambitions and not let their vision impairment hold them back. The members who attended were able to spend time with each other during the weekend and so did the children over activities that were planned for them. The workshops on offer for all to participate in provided additional sources of support and information.

As an ambassador for RP Fighting Blindness, I was invited to speak about my experience of living with Retinitis Pigmentosa. From a shocking diagnosis, moving to London, bringing up children, and then finally getting the support I desperately needed, I finally accepted and came to terms with my sight loss. I found ways I could relive my life; from volunteering, setting up a social group, organising charity fundraisers and now working for East London Vision.

“Was I nervous presenting at my first public speaking event? –most definitely. Would I do it again? – yes indeed.” I had learned that the biggest help and support I received was from another vision impaired professional who knew exactly what I was going through and how I felt. In fact, this is exactly what people said to me about my talk and how they could all relate.

Attending as a delegate was very useful, not only for me but for my family as well. My daughters met other children with vision impaired parents and children who were affected with sight loss too. It was a great opportunity for them to share their feelings over fun activity sessions and during times of socialising. Equally, my husband met other partners in the same situation and it was certainly a great bonding time for them. Moreover, I felt that my parents, who attended their first RP information day ever, found it extremely useful and engaging by talking to other parents and seeing how other people with RP cope and manage in different ways.

Overall, it was a fantastically organised weekend and very much-needed. It was a privilege to have been asked to speak at the event but at the same time thrilled to have been part of it; gaining and sharing lots of information, and connecting with others.

One aspect which I can take away from the weekend, and would love to share with others is – please talk about your emotional journey, whether it be to a family, friend or professional, as there is always someone who can help and you do not have to go through it alone.

Photo of Bhavini standing in front of a RP Fighting Blindness poster at the RP Families Conference.

If would like to listen to my talk at the RP conference please click on the YouTube video directly below.

Written by Bhavini Makwana

A Newbie’s Account of Ridderrennet and the Limited Snow Filled Week

I signed myself up to the 2017 Ridderrennet week in November 2016, not knowing what I’d really gotten myself into having never cross-country skied before.

Ridderrennet is an annual international disabled cross-country ski competition held in Beitostølen supported by student volunteers from Sports Science degree courses and the King’s guards from the army. With cross-country skiing there are two tracks in the snow that skis fit into, which aid vision impaired people to follow the tracks whilst skiing.

After having a rocky start with Ryanair on Sunday 26 March and their limited desire of wanting to accommodate 8 blind and partially sighted passengers we safely landed in sunny Oslo. On Monday morning I was paired up with my guide for the week. We ventured out and hit the snow, or what may be better referred to as slush and rather difficult cross-country skiing conditions.

By the end of day 2 I wasn’t sure whether skiing was for me, but when old hands like Mike Brace say “I’ve never known snow conditions to be this bad in all my years of coming and for beginners it isn’t the best conditions to be learning to cross-country ski”, I stopped giving myself a hard time for not grasping it as well as I’d have liked. As the week progressed so did my skiing abilities and the slight onset of sore muscles informed me that I was working hard!

Photo of Masuma standing in the snow with her skis on.

Thursday arrived with snow falling and the challenge of tackling the hills as part of my first race. Not sure who at this stage was more nervous me or my guide! I was counted down at the start line and before I knew it we were off and tackling our first downhill of the 4K race. I made it to the finish line with some rather splendid uphill and downhill falls along the way, but in 54 minutes and one exhausted piece! The rest of that day entailed rest and sleep!!

Saturday morning the atmosphere was buzzing over breakfast with everyone excited about the race, with plenty of discussions about start times and competing to beat each other, as well as own personal race times. Whilst the skiers and guides readied themselves for the race at the World Cup Arena the military band came out and played. My personal goal was to try to beat my time from Thursday, although not knowing what the tracks would be like it was virtually impossible to say how it would plan out.

For the second time that week I queued and edged my way to the start line and waited to be counted down with my guide beside me who was telling me I had to give it my all as it was the last day of skiing and I could rest tomorrow. I encountered just as many interesting falls as the previous race, but with more confidence and the focus of beating my time in the forefront of my mind I got up and kept going. I crossed the finish line with a few marvellous falls with my legs having turned to jelly and given way from exhaustion of smashing my previous time and coming in at 35 minutes!

Photo of Masuma and her guide with the medals they won in the race.

Despite the lack of snow and awful conditions as a newcomer it was a great week, I got to meet some awesome people, push myself physically and try something new and challenging at the same time, as well as discover muscles I didn’t know existed, or had forgotten they did. To say I was sore by the end of the week was an understatement! As one of a few newbies on the trip we didn’t have the same expectations as previous attendees, so did the best we could, but equally giving us something better to look forward to hopefully next time.

The whole week was extremely well organized from transport to guides, to volunteer support at breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you were unfortunate enough to be lost, or misguided by another vision impaired person (a frequent occurrence!) a helping hand was never too far away to offer a guiding arm.

If you have never cross-country skied and are looking for something challenging to do as well as socialise then I’d say to keep an eye out for next year’s Ridderrennet week and start working on the leg and arm muscles.

Photo of Masuma and other participants proudly showing their medals.

Written by Masuma Ali

Louise Successfully Completes Marathon and Raises Over £3,000 for ELVis!

Hi Everyone!

After a bit of a hiatus, the ELVis blog is back!  So stay tuned for more weekly updates about what Team ELVis has been getting up to, as well as interesting and useful news and information relating to the VI world.

For our first post, we’d like to celebrate a fantastic achievement that ELVis supporter Louise Fairhurst undertook recently: completing the Virgin Money London Marathon.  Below is an account of how well she did and what the rest of us got up to on the day when we went to support her:

On Sunday 23rd April, a group of ELVis members and staff were up bright and early to ensure that we got a good spot at one of the biggest events our capital has to offer: the Virgin Money London Marathon. Our runner was to be Louise Fairhurst, whose longest competitive run up to that point had been 10K, but who had been training hard for several months to give herself the best chance of taking this challenge on. She’d previously told us “It has been my ambition to run the London Marathon for several years, but I was planning on only running once I was determined to find the right charity to support. When the opportunity came up to represent East London Vision – I just couldn’t say no.”

With a good spot on Tower Bridge, the group of supporters settled in and got ready to cheer! Seeing several vision impaired runners in the para-athlete part of the race was an uplifting sight, and gave our vocal chords a good warm up ready for when the masses started to run past. The atmosphere of the Marathon is incredible, with everyone cheering on and encouraging strangers who they’ll never meet, there’s a fantastic sense of camaraderie and support. We kept a lookout for Louise amongst all of the Spidermans, Vikings and fairies running past us, aided by the app we’d downloaded on our phones which tracked her progress, so we knew when she was likely to arrive. At about midday we say her running past, and let out massive cheers and whoops to encourage her through the second half of the race.

Shortly afterwards we made our own way to the finish line (via the much easier and slightly quicker London Underground), where we met Louise once she had finished the race. She had not only managed to complete her first ever Marathon, but had done so in a time of 4 hours and 11 minutes, an amazing achievement. And not only that, but she didn’t even look tired! We all congratulated her on her fantastic achievement and admired the medal that she’d deservedly been given.

Many thanks to everyone who joined us to watch the race, and to those keeping track of Louise at home via our Twitter page and the app. And of course, a HUGE thank you to Louise herself- we’re so grateful for all of the time, effort and sweat you put into the training and into the race itself. We hope that you are extremely proud of your achievement!

There is still time to donate to Louise to show your appreciation for all of her hard work. Please go to her Virgin Money Giving page to do so: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=LouiseFairhurst.

Photo of Louise holding up her medal.














Written by Nicola Stokes