Multisport: Blind athlete focuses on cans, not can'ts

Neelusha Memom hasn't let her blindness stop her outdoor adventures. Photo / Supplied
Neelusha Memom hasn't let her blindness stop her outdoor adventures. Photo / Supplied

Neelusha Memom is competing in the Speight's Coast to Coast next weekend to change the perception of what people with a disability or impairment can achieve.

The 27-year-old from Christchurch is attempting to be the first legally blind person to finish the 243km race across the South Island.

She doesn't remember much about the turn of the new millennium. In one week during the year 2000 she went from snowboarding at Cardrona to fighting for her life as a post-viral auto-immune disease put her in a coma for four months.

After a year in hospital she went home with just 30 per cent sight and major co-ordination problems.

Eleven years later she wants to be the first legally blind person to finish the Coast to Coast.

That sums up Neelusha Memom's life since 2000. From having to learn to walk, talk and eat again, to taking on challenges even able-bodied people struggle to meet, the 27-year-old is going about life as she always wanted to.

She has climbed Mt Aspiring, heli-skied across the Tasman Glacier and ridden at the Paracycling World Championships in France.

"One of the biggest barriers for people with disabilities or impairments is the perception of able-bodied people of what they can and can't do," she said. "Along the way you get so many people telling you 'You can't do it and why are you doing this' and it wears you down. My support crew has been nothing but positive and that has helped me so much. I am focusing on achieving this and the reasons I can do it, not all the reasons I can't. I am doing this to prove that people with disabilities are limitless with support."

Memom has worked on her kayaking skills and, with her paracycling experience, she feels comfortable about the bike. She is most nervous about taking on the run of the famous race.

"It is a crazy, crazy part of the race with the trail running and boulder hopping. Those are things I could never do before but I have learned how to do that. With the help of my support runners they will cater for my sight and for my balance. I'll get through - it's going to be tough. There is no doubt it is a bloody tough event."

Race director Robin Judkins is impressed by Memom's commitment.

"She is quite a character and she has been very smart in the way she has trained up her support crew. She is a very determined young woman and I am confident she has the ability to do this," said Judkins.

Judkins said over the past 30 years the Coast to Coast had prided itself on including disabled and impaired athletes. "We don't change the rules for them. They compete in the same framework as anyone else which is what makes their achievements so special."

- NZ Herald

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