01/11/2020

Brittany's Story

Brittany Stead

23-year-old Brittany Stead is from Morley, Leeds. She is the chair of Tandem Trekkers, a West Yorkshire-based tandem cycling club for blind and visually impaired riders.

Brittany, who graduated from University of Leeds with a sociology degree in July, is a volunteer at various charities and is a public transport accessibility advocate.

Brittany was partially sighted from birth. She was diagnosed with glaucoma in both eyes aged 17, resulting in a loss of vision.

Here is Brittany's amazing story so far in her own words. 

At school, it was always really obvious I was different.

In rounders, instead of using the normal bat and ball, I was given a tennis racket and thrown a fluorescent yellow ball. I still missed it most of the time, I was rubbish.

It was embarrassing and it put me off sport. I thought 'why should I be doing something that pigeon holes me as different?' I hated it. 

I used to love trampolining - my teacher would let me do my flips, but she had to be on the trampoline with me. It was another layer that made me stand out like a sore thumb. 

These things were bad for my self-esteem and demoralised me. You're constantly told that you can't do things as a disabled person and it made me worry more about that.

Visually impaired students get allocated something called a mobility officer, who helps teach you how to cross the road using your hearing, how to catch a bus, important skills like that. 

I was allocated Stuart Adams, who was the most amazing person. He taught me so much about how to approach my disability - he taught me to love life.

Stuart worked at a school called Moore End where they had a visually impaired unit built in. He taught a sport called goalball and asked if I wanted to try it on Mondays. 

That was the first time I played a sport when it didn't matter that I didn't see properly - everyone wears a blindfold!

Goalball really boosted my confidence. I'm one of eight children and the only one that's visually impaired. I could never really join in with anything growing up. 

Goalball came along and showed me my lack of sight didn't matter, which is never something I thought would happen to me. It changed my life, it really did. 

At 17, I started having a lot of pain in my eyes. One day I woke up and couldn't see out of my left eye at all. My mum told me to go down, have breakfast and see if it improved.

It didn't. All I could see was movement, light and shapes. I went into hospital, was diagnosed with glaucoma and then a barrage of surgeries began to try to save my sight. 

It took me six months to get back on my feet after losing my sight. I didn't know how to carry on with my life. 

A few things helped. I got a guide dog - Honey - who made everything better. And my Mum and Dad got me back on my feet and told me to start proving people wrong. 

That was when I found out about Tandem Trekkers. I went along, had a go and I loved it. I'd never been able to cycle on roads or go at the speed I wanted.

With Tandem Trekkers, I could go as fast as I wanted and get really got exercise.

At one point, Tandem Trekkers got too big for Kirklees Visual Impairment Network to continue to manage. 

I was appointed to a steering group and as chair, I took it to becoming its own charitable incorporated organisation. We now have 100 members and before COVID, cycled every week. 

There's such a family feeling at Tandem Trekkers and the most rewarding thing is helping other people get out that wouldn't have had the opportunity. That's what keeps me going. 

During lockdown, I got so fed up. I'm quite a positive person, but we've got members who are vulnerable and I couldn't imagine how tough it would be for them. 

That pushed me to spend a month, day in, day out, trying to get us back up and running. I spoke to other clubs that had already restarted cycling and got in touch with big organisations like British Cycling and the local council - and I wrote up our policy.

I got our measures approved, put all the PPE in place and we've just had our second ride back. It's been fantastic. 

Mum and Dad have never sugercoated me. They've always pushed me to be my best and that's driven me to do what I've done.

They tell me I'm a bit stubborn, but that's got me where I am! 

You can learn more about Tandem Trekkers HERE and find accessible activities near you on the Parasport finder.