Running with Blind Faith

James Ledger is a para sprinter with dreams as big as his heart – this summer, he aims to represent Great Britain at the Paralympic Games in Paris.

Born with bilateral coloboma and nystagmus, and detached retinas in both eyes, James is registered as blind. He is a sprinter in the T11 classification, meaning he has a near-total visual impairment and thus runs blindfolded with a guide runner.

The proud Welshman has always been involved in sports, but it wasn’t until his dad took him to Swansea Harriers that he picked up sprinting. Before that, he would play football with his friends.

“Initially,” James told Fen Regis Trophies. “Sport was a way of fitting in and not standing out for being different.

“A lot of my early years was spent playing football, just because my mates did.

“It was a sport that I didn’t necessarily enjoy, but it was something that everyone else did so that’s why I thought that’s what I had to do.”

Turning to Athletics

James played football until he was 16, when his father had enough of seeing his son sitting on the bench. After a conversation with his dad, James was taken to his local athletics club, Swansea Harriers, where everything began to fall into place.

“My dad said to me ‘James, what do you want to do? Because this (playing football) isn’t it’.

“The first thing that came into my head was that I wanted to be as fast as I could be…so we went to Swansea Harriers, and that’s where my true sporting journey started.”

From the first session at the grassroots athletics club, James was hooked. Not only did he enjoy finding a sport where he could excel, but James also found the individual nature of sprinting somewhat freeing.

“Being in a team sport,” he said. “I was anxious about making a mistake because I didn’t want to let people down.

“When I started athletics, I quickly realised that it is just me…now it is a little bit different as I am blindfolded and attached to a guide running…but, theoretically, I am the only one that I can count on.

“I’m the only one that takes all the different emotions involved in high-level sports. That really appealed to me, and that’s where I have developed as a person on and off the track.”

The Coach in His Corner

There has been no shortage of people who have helped James along his sporting journey, but one he holds in especially high regard is his coach, Matt Elias. As a former 400m sprinter and hurdler, who represented Great Britain at the 2004 Olympic Games, Matt has a wealth of experience to offer James, though the pair have been able to learn from one another.

“I was the first para-athlete and visually-impaired person he has coached,” said James of his coach. “He was open and he asked a lot of questions.

“The way he coaches me, because he knows there’s no point demonstrating stuff, is he will use my lens so that I can feel what he expects from me in certain movements.

“When we are talking about block clearances or accelerating, he will move my legs and say this is the position I need to be in so I can feel what that feels like and replicate it.

“I think he has taken that into his coaching style as well, even when he’s working with other athletes who are not visually impaired.”

James continued: “Matt was an incredible athlete in his own right, being a Commonwealth Games medallist and an Olympian.

“The best thing about Matt is that he is so approachable, and I feel like he has gotten through all the changes that I’ve gone through.

“I can be honest and open with him, and I think he understands me and my disability. That allows me to feel comfortable in his presence.

“He knows how to get the best out of me.”

Commonwealth and Paralympic Games

With James targeting the Paralympic Games in Paris, he is desperate to add to his experience of competing on the world stage at the Commonwealth Games in 2018. Representing Wales in Australia, according to James, is his proudest achievement so far – though he hopes that will change soon enough.

“I’m a proud Welshman,” he said. “That was a huge, huge honour. A huge moment in my career – not just for me, but for my family as well.

“My brother lives in Australia, he’s been there for 15 years, and the first time my brother got to watch me race was at the Commonwealth Games.

“A moment I will never forget is having 40,000 people screaming and shouting…there’s no feeling like it and to wear the red of Wales is a moment I will never forget.

“That was a moment I will never forget and I want to experience that again and again.”

James is competing in events worldwide, working towards qualification for his first Paralympic Games. The Games kick off on 28 August in Paris following the conclusion of the Olympic Games, though the date that James has fixed in his mind is 22 July.

“The deadline I am working towards is 22 July, which is the cut-off time,” he explained. “Before that, I’m just trying to run as fast as I can.

“Hopefully, that will all gear up as I try to qualify for the Paralympic Games.

“That is the pinnacle. It is what I have been working towards for the last 12 years. Hopefully, I can make it happen.”

You can find out more about James’ journey by listening to The Disability Sports Wales Podcast which he hosts, casting light on both his own and other peoples’ stories of overcoming significant obstacles.

By Aaron Gratton

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Visit our online shop