Demanding schedule puts Clegg on course for Paralympics challenge

Blind sprinter is determined to win gold

SPRINTERS do not tend to reach their peak until their late 20s, but at 21, Libby Clegg is already a world champion and among the favourites to win 100 metres gold in London next summer. If she keeps running for the rest of the decade, there could be no stopping her.

Not that she is thinking so far ahead at present. Right now, as she undergoes winter training at Loughborough University, Clegg is concentrating only on the Paralympics. A silver medallist four years ago, she is determined to go one better next year.

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“My personal best just now is 12.51 seconds,” she said. “I definitely will be beating that next year. I have to up my game with the Paralympics just around the corner.”

Born in Macclesfield, Clegg moved with her family to Newcastleton in the Borders and then on to Edinburgh, the place she still regards as home and where she attended the Royal Blind School. She has Stargardt’s Macular Dystrophy, a degenerative eye condition. Born with normal sight, she now has only slight peripheral vision in her left eye and is registered blind.

Competitors in Clegg’s T12 class can opt to run with a guide. She began at international level partnering the former British international, Lincoln Asquith, but now works with his stepson, Mikal Huggins.

“Mikal is 27, which is a bit younger than Lincoln, who had become a little bit injury-prone,” said Clegg. “It’s quite nice to have a guide with a different personality: Mikal is really laid back, whereas Lincoln is a bit more mature.

“You have to really get on with your guide, because they put so much time into working with you and travelling with you to major events. There’s a lot of pressure on a guide, particularly when it comes to making sure they don’t cross the line first, because you get disqualified if they do. It’s not as easy as it looks.

“I’m doing two sessions a week with Mikal at the moment because I’m on my winter training schedule. I also do a lot of work with another young athlete, Jenni Taker, who is able-bodied, and I still do a lot of running on my own too. I can do that on the track okay.”

Running Blind, a documentary about Clegg on BBC2 Scotland tonight, gives a glimpse of her life at Loughborough. It’s a demanding schedule, with very little time for relaxation, but she would not have it any other way.

“Because of athletics, I’m not really like any other 21-year-old. I don’t go out and get drunk.

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“My sister doesn’t understand why I do it, because she likes going out, but it’s the sense of achievement, really. It gives you such a buzz. I feel really free when I run.

“I used to get my dad to time me when I ran round the block. That was when I was about nine, then both my brothers got into sport. My sister doesn’t like sport at all, though. In fact she doesn’t even like walking.

“I can remember when I could actually see, and when my sight started to go. That was when I was about nine as well. No-one in our family had ever had it, but unfortunately both my parents carried the gene.

“They were told there was supposed to be a one in four chance of a child of theirs having the condition, but in our case there’s three out of four of us who have it – just Felicity who hasn’t. It’s just bad luck, really.”

Felicity is also the only one of the four who has not been actively involved in sport. James is in the top 20 freestyle swimmers in the world, while Stephen has also been a keen swimmer. Together, Libby and James are helping publicise the Nominate A Paralympic Torchbearer programme, promoted by the Bank of Scotland. She has nominated Bob Moxley, who coached her in Scotland, while James has nominated Libby herself.

“She’s my elder sister and she’s my inspiration, because she’s got further in sport than I have,” he said. Come next summer, however, James hopes he will have caught up, at least as far as getting into the British team for the Paralympics goes.

“I don’t want to say I’ll definitely be at the Olympics, because some people think I might not make it,” said James.

“But I’m going to go for it. Let’s say I’d be disappointed if I didn’t make it.”

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Although he was inspired by his elder sister into believing he could be a successful sportsman, James never thought of following her into athletics. “I was 12 when I started swimming at a disability club,” he added. “It’s the only sport I’ve tried, really. I used to watch skateboarding, but a blind skateboarder wouldn’t really work.”

A blind runner and a blind swimmer, on the other hand, are working rather well right now.

• Shine a light on someone who has made a difference in the disability community by nominating them to carry the Paralympic Flame with Bank of Scotland. To find out more or make a nomination visit by 22 November 2011.