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Five-time Paralympic gold medalist Jason Smyth has opened up about his insecurities at the beginning of his sporting career and how he initially tried to hide his visual impairment.
As a child, the Derry native was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease, a condition that causes progressive vision loss.
He began his athletics journey as a teenager but did not immediately disclose his impairment to his coach, as he revealed in a new video for Allianz Ireland.
“If I’m honest too, when I look back, I suppose I hadn’t accepted my disability. I wasn’t comfortable with it, I wasn’t confident and therefore hiding it and I would never have told people that I can’t see very well.
“When I went to athletics, initially my coach didn’t even know”.
However, Smyth has explained that through the power of sport, he eventually found a way to gain confidence and become more comfortable with himself.
“It’s this journey through sport that was the massive turning point. Sport allowed me to begin to accept it. I mean, the reality is sport and para sport started to highlight my visual impairment and I had to learn to get more comfortable in that.
“But I think a lot is probably driven by confidence. And as I had success, I became more confident in me and the things I did and me as a person. I learned to accept that. That’s one of the incredible things about sport and why I would be, in general, a big advocate for sport because of what sport can do.
“It has the power to change people for good; develop physically, socially, mentally. A lot of the skills and attributes that I’ve developed to be at the level I’ve been at are all skills and attributes that I can take with me wherever I go, into whatever career I go after. It’s those attributes, success.
“So much for me has been because of sport and I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunities and the experiences I’ve had through my journey of sport.”
Allianz’s Courage Chronicles series pulls back the curtain on the trials and tribulations of Ireland’s elite athletes as they set their sights on representing Ireland on the global stage during such uncertain times.
Tokyo will be Smyth’s fifth outing at the Paralympic Games. The 33-year-old has certainly evolved from the uncertain teenager starting out in sport to the athlete now dubbed ‘the fastest Paralympian in the world’ and he is aiming for his sixth gold medal in Japan.
His self-belief didn’t materialise overnight but has grown throughout his journey in sport. And now he is sharing that message with future generations, hoping to inspire the next crop of great Irish Paralympians.
“We always look at disabilities and look at what people can’t do instead of what people can do. Believe in yourself and what you want to achieve.
“There are no limits to what I can achieve and what I can accomplish.”
Speaking at the launch of the second video in Allianz’s Courage Chronicles series is Allianz brand ambassador and five-time Paralympic gold medallist Jason Smyth.
Earlier this year Allianz announced an eight-year worldwide partnership with the Olympic and Paralympic Movements, building on a global collaboration with the Paralympic Movement since 2006.
For more information go to https://www.allianz.ie/olympic-paralympic-movements/