Interview: Blind Faith

Inspirational tales from runners who have overcome the odds



Tracey Hinton & Steff Hughes

The 42-year-old from Cardiff on her six Paralympic Games and captaining the women's athletics team in London.

Tracey
By the time I was four, I was totally blind after having cancer of the retina in both eyes. I went to a boarding school for blind people, and it was there I discovered all sorts of sports I loved. From the age of 14 I went to different schools’ sports days and I was spotted as having some ability and asked to take part in British blind sport events. 

Back then, it was really different for blind athletes. At first I only ran in individual timed 100m races. I would run up a track with someone standing at 50m and 100m. They would call out numbers –‘five’ to keep going straight, ‘four’ if  I was veering left and so on. I would run to the sound of the voice as quickly as I could. But this method had its flaws: for example, on windy days, the voice would carry so it was hard to locate, and I would veer off course.

My first Paralympics was in Barcelona in 1992. I’ve now been to
six Games, including London where I captained the women’s athletics squad. But it was only two years before Athens that I started running with Steff. Just as important as being suited to each other on the
track, we get on really well away from it.

That has to be the case, because for the big events such as the London Paralympics, we were together every day for seven weeks. He helps me with everything from guiding me round my room in the athletes’ village to sorting out my meals in the canteen. It’s so much more than just running with me. 

We’ve known each other for more than 10 years now. In the early days we did have one major mishap, though. At a European Championships when we thought we’d got silver, Steff actually crossed the line first and we were disqualified. He was gutted and thought I wouldn’t want to run with him again. He would have walked away, but we had the World Championships soon after. 

So instead we trained hard, won gold and set an 800m world record. Because we worked so hard and so closely together, our running got into perfect harmony. My overall memory of last summer at London was the crowds. They were so unbelievably loud they actually made me nervous at first and it took me by surprise. I didn’t qualify from my 100m and 200m semi-finals, but did get a season’s best time in each so I was happy. It was another amazing experience – and one of the best I’ve ever had – thanks to running.

Steff
I was a keen footballer and had played for Wales at youth level when I started university in Cardiff. Soon after beginning my studies, I saw a newspaper advert from Tracey appealing for a running guide. I got in touch. I said I was very fit and dedicated, but that I didn’t have a background in athletics. I said it looked like a fantastic challenge and I was keen to give it a go. So we met up and began getting to know each other, and I realised that a good friendship off the track was really important.

At the start it was daunting. I had to learn quickly from Tracey and her coach about track running. I worked hard on it and we got in sync when we ran her distances, which back then were 400m and 800m. I guided Tracey at Athens then I went off to become a teacher. But the Christmas before the Beijing Games, I got an SOS call from her after her guide got injured. I stepped back in after being away for more than three years. In that first session back, our first few strides were in perfect sync. 

The same happened just before London, when her guide got injured. I was then a teacher, but luckily I’d recently done an Ironman, still played football and was marathon training. Again I was her guide and had the privilege of helping her fulfil her dreams.



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