Competitive middle-distance running is hard enough — but try doing it without your sight.
That’s the reality for 20-year-old world record-holding Paralympian Jaryd Clifford, who is classified as legally blind but can run the 1500m in under four minutes.
The rising track star, from Melbourne, is even beating able-bodied rivals.
At the age of three, Clifford was diagnosed with juvenile macular degeneration — a rare disorder that can’t be treated.
“It affects my central vision, which means I have trouble picking up facial features, and perception of detail,” he said.
“In a race situation, I can only see the outline, I suppose, of the person in front of me. And that’s about it.”
In primary school Clifford refused to let his vision hold him back, and like many Australian children he dedicated his early years to playing sport.
“Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to represent Australia, or compete at sport at the highest level,” Clifford said.
“When all your heroes are sportspeople, all you want to do is be like them.”
His dreams had to change when his vision deteriorated significantly at the age of 12.
“I remember I was just in the schoolyard, kicking the ball around, and [I’d] miss a pass or something simple like that and get frustrated,” Clifford said.
“At the time it was something quite tough, something that took a while to get over.”
In 2012, far from giving up on his sporting dreams, Clifford participated in a Paralympic talent search.
He excelled in the “beep test” and his dreams of representing his country were once again rekindled.
His natural talent and his determination saw him quickly improve, and at 17 he fulfilled his goal of representing Australia at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.
Despite his progress, his vision remained problematic.
On one occasion he lost his bearings and raced off the track.
“It’s scary, and in the moment it’s humiliating as well,” Clifford explained.
“You kind of lose control of something that you fight quite hard to control, every day of your life.”
Having larger goals kept Clifford’s mind on his task, and he accepted that for longer distances he’d need a guide runner.
Clifford’s good friend and running partner, Tim Logan, stepped in.
“I want to help him get to the best level he can possibly get to,” Logan said.
“Guiding him, if that’s going to help him, it’s something I’m happy to do.”
The pair are linked by a small guide rope, no longer than 15cm, which they each hold onto as they run around the track, together.
“If someone makes a move, he’s got to know that — I’m his eyes out there he just does the running I guess,” Logan explained.
“His vision does fatigue towards the end of races, as well, so it kind of helps him out more toward the end of a race, when the moves are being made.”
Clifford believes having that tactical guidance will help him in the 5,000m event.
“In a pack situation, it’s a lot easier for me to become disorientated and panic and under the stresses of fatigue,” he said.
“It’s not just (Tim’s) job to get me from point A to point B safely, his main duty is in fact to tell me what’s going on.”
While the Rio Paralympics were a dream come true, Clifford’s aims have quickly risen as his times have improved.
Clifford now runs the 1,500m in just 3 minutes and 47 seconds — it is a T12 world record and puts him in the top 10 of able-bodied runners in Australia.
In 2018 he won the national under-20 able-bodied titles, and his improvement has him dreaming of winning gold at the Tokyo Paralympics in 2020.
“World records don’t necessarily mean you win the gold medal, there’s a lot more that I need to do if I want to achieve that,” he conceded.
“It also doesn’t mean that that’s your ceiling, I still think there’s room for me to run quicker.”
If he can do that, the Olympic games may not be out of the question in the future, either.
It’s a far cry from the young boy that thought his sporting ambitions would never come to fruition.
“Overcoming adversity makes you stronger. I’m stronger for that period in my life,” Clifford said.
“It’s quite special to know that those low moments don’t last forever, and hopefully the highest moments are just around the corner.”
Article by ABC News