x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Paralympic gold medallist Lindy Hou will meet with sportsmen, school children and people with special needs during a visit to Dubai.

Lindy Hou, a Paralympic gold medallist, suffers from a degenerative eye disease and began losing her sight at 25 – but refused to let her condition stop her living a full and active life. Satish Kumar / The National
Lindy Hou, a Paralympic gold medallist, suffers from a degenerative eye disease and began losing her sight at 25 – but refused to let her condition stop her living a full and active life. Satish Kumar / The National

DUBAI // A Paralympic gold medallist is hoping to inspire people to follow in her footsteps by holding on to their dreams and overcoming adversity.

Lindy Hou, 53, suffers from a degenerative eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa and began losing her sight in the mid-1980s. She is now almost totally blind.

She will speak to a diverse group of local and expatriate sportsmen, schoolchildren, people with special needs and chief executives in the coming days.

Hou, an Australian, was 25 when she began to lose sight in her left eye. She quit her job as an information technology consultant and transformed her life to cope with her fading vision.

“I’m in my 50s now. I’ve got some sight so I’m going to hang on to it, but back then the first thing I asked the doctor was, ‘how can we fix it?” Hou said.

“The shock to me was there is no cure. There is no good way or bad way to lose sight. In a way, I’m glad it’s gradual because I had time to adapt to changes.”

She sought help through counselling, took up sports such as outrigger canoeing and cycling and discovered a talent as a motivational speaker.

“I decided that I’m not completely useless, I can do something and I decided to get on with it,” Hou said. “I realised you can speak to people all you like but you need to find ways to come to deal with it and come to terms with it.”

Narrowly missing being selected for Australia’s squad for the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games, she focused on the next championship and returned home with four cycling medals from the 2004 Athens Paralympics.

“Getting involved in sport was definitely a good thing,” Hou said. “I slowly built up my self-esteem through sport.”

Riding a tandem bicycle with her guide, Hou won a gold, two silvers and a bronze for a range of cycling races in the 3,000 metres, combination road race, time trials and sprints.

Four years later at the Beijing Paralympic Games she secured a silver and bronze in the 3,000m and 1,000m races.

In two world championships, she picked up six cycling medals and set a world one-hour record for the 42.93-kilometre race in 2005 in Sydney.

After retiring from Paralympic cycling, she began competing in triathlons and this year won a Paratriathlon National Championship in Australia in the vision-impaired category.

In these competitions, athletes with special needs are connected with a rope to their guide, who swims or runs beside them and in the cycling section they ride a tandem bike.

“I feel like I’m floating when I run,” Hou said. “In the crowd I hear people yell, “go Aussie”. With the crowds calling and yelling there is no way you can slow down, you go as hard as you can to reach the finish.”

Hou will speak to locals and expatriates, athletes and people with special needs at a series of events in the coming days.

These include at Al Tiqah Club in Sharjah on Sunday from 6pm.

The Paralympian has already won over cycling enthusiasts in Dubai when she met 150 of them at the Autodrome on Wednesday.

“It was incredibly inspirational seeing her and it’s one thing that you will remember for the rest of your life,” said Donal Kilalea, co-founder of Cycle Safe Dubai.

“She has risen above her disability, made cycling her passion and became a world Olympian. It is a lesson to us all that it does not matter what you are faced with, you can rise above it.”

Hou said people often wondered how she speaks without any recording aids during her meetings.

“They ask me how I remember everything and I tell them, ‘it’s my story, so what if I miss a few punch lines?’,” she said.

“Every one of us is no different regardless of our disability. I feel if I can spend time talking to people and help them achieve what they want to in business, studies or sport, I will have had a pretty full life.”

rtalwar@thenational.ae