Mary Fisher

Para swimming (S11 and SM11 blind classifications)

Age: 23

Previous Paralympics: London


What got you into swimming?

The independence it brought. I could learn butterfly and tumble turns, which gave me confidence when I struggled with other things because of my vision. At high school, I kept swimming as a hobby because it made me feel normal, which is all you want when you're learning Braille and using a white cane. All my friends were learning to drive and I was learning to read again. Once I started taking swimming seriously and getting qualification times, it became exciting.

How is your sight affected?

I have a congenital condition called aniridia, which means my irises are absent. When I was young, I had about 10 per cent normal vision. I could read large print and see things up close. I lost the rest of that as a teenager but I can still tell the difference between light and dark. I wear blacked-out goggles when racing because my events are for totally blind athletes, but some have light perception and some don't. I also need a tapper who holds a stick with a polystyrene ball on the end at the edge of the pool to give me a gauge when I'm 2m from the wall.

How important is Braille?

When I was 15, I had this internal dilemma of not wanting to look different. I got over myself a couple of years later and realised it was actually something special to read independently. A lot of blind kids around the world don't get that opportunity. It's handy just to be able to go into a Braille lift and choose the floor by yourself. I also have a speech programme on my laptop called Jaws which reads webpages and documents.

How did you get around town travelling the 30km from Upper Hutt to Kilbirnie in the early days?

I'm fortunate to have a supportive family. I trained in Upper Hutt until I finished high school. I just missed a world championships team in my final year, so decided if I put everything into it, I might make the London Paralympics. For 18 months, I took the Airport Flyer, which ran through Silverstream from Upper Hutt and stopped in Kilbirnie. After training, it had stopped its run, so I would take a city bus followed by a train to my parents. I wanted to make it worth it.

What do you enjoy outside swimming?

I've been living on Auckland's North Shore to be close to the Millennium Institute since August, but I love singing with the Wellington community choir when I'm back, like this Wednesday.

You've also helped out at the Blind Foundation.

I don't have an official role, but they run various children's programmes and I benefited from that social contact as a kid. We'd come together every summer at a camp, geared for 8 to 14 year-olds. I've been back about five times as a junior leader. The cool thing is that today's leaders are the ones I led years ago. They seem so responsible. The other big issue for me is orientation and mobility. They provide white-cane training and Braille for adults. I try to gauge issues and form a bigger picture as to how people's lives can be improved.

What events are you aiming to compete in at Rio?

The 50m, 100m and 400m freestyle, the 100m backstroke and 200m individual medley. All my swims have medal potential but the 100m backstroke and 200IM [in which Fisher holds the world record] are my favourites at the moment.