Growing up I was always keen on sports, whether that was running, football, rugby or pool. If it had a competitive edge I would give it a go. Always keen to compete I would happily get involved with whatever sport I could. I believe if you dedicate yourself to a particular sport then you can get better and better at it. The problem I faced was always which one to choose going forward.
At the age of 10 I was playing football for my primary school, when I went to secondary school I started playing for my local team Cashes Green Rovers, scoring twice on my debut I was selected as captain for the next game and carried on from there. I was only 13 but was captaining the under 15’s.
I used to run cross countries for my secondary school until the age of 14 when sadly a knee injury stopped me from taking part in too much physical work on it. So sadly my running and football days were pretty well over and any kind of competitive level. Instead I could only really kick a ball with friends for much more limited time spans. Still a lot of fun and always good exercise.
The need to compete was always there and I guess it always will be. At the time my parents were running a pub and I used to go along every now and then and hang out with them which were usually rather boring. However, this was where I discovered the game of 8 ball pool. My dad had played for years, so it seemed right that I should follow in his footsteps. He also played all the sport he could when he was young just as I did. So, I observed, I learnt, then I picked up a cue and at the age of 13 or so I started playing. Not very well to begin with of course but never the less I learned by playing and watching the others in the pub who would turn out week in week out for a few games. At first I think they let me win and didn’t try very hard to beat me but soon after I picked up a few good shots and became a decent player. At the age of 14 I joined the pubs pool team. Playing all over Stroud visiting different pubs every Tuesday it was a really great experience, one that I just loved. My first season was not my finest but this only made me want to improve, so I joined the local pool club and would play hour after hour and eventually I started to win more than I lost and the people that used to let me win were now trying their hardest but often couldn’t compete. In my third year of playing I was made captain of the team and if memory serves it was my second season as captain when we won the league for the first time and so a thirst for success was born.
We went on to win several more trophies over the following few years and even ended up going to Wales to play against a Welsh international side which was a lot of fun. Playing pool had given me a new lease of life at such a young age, something I was good at and it was something where you can meet so many people. My social life improved and my confidence improved to go with. I felt unstoppable, until my dreaded sight loss.
It was just before my 20th birthday when my sight failed me and I could no longer see to play. This for me was a devastating blow, especially after my knee stopped me from playing football. I had now lost all of the sporting activities that made me tick. I literally felt like I had nothing, it wasn’t just the sight and all that went with that, sport for me was the lifeline that kept me feeling confident and social, it’s what kept me sane. I was devastated that I could no longer see to compete, I genuinely thought I would never find any other sport to play again.
Fast forward 5 years and after finding a bar that I could practice in and not feel uncomfortable I started playing pool on my own simply to try and rediscover the skills I had lost; I finally found a way to play the game again. I can’t see one end of the table to the other but if the white ball is close to my object ball then I can just about see it. I use the shadow created by the cue on the table to judge where my cue is and the rest is all done through memory. It was tough to begin with but like I always say, practice makes perfect. It has taken me around 5 or so years to get back to a level where I am pleased with how I am playing, I know I can still get better but I am proud to say that those years of miss-spent youth playing pool were not wasted after all. I just had to find a way around the problem and when you think about it in life, that’s all we can do. If there is an obstacle you simply have to find a way to overcome it.
In 2017 I played league pool for the first time in over 10 years and against some of the best players in Cheltenham, I may not be as good as I once was but I am proud to say I am taking part again which I never thought I would be able to do.
With the pool playing giving me back the competitive edge and the founding, running and playing for the Gloucestershire Growlers blind cricket team, I have never felt more alive.
Sight loss for me was at first devastating, not playing sport was even worse, but now I have found a way to still be able to compete and succeed, I have never felt better.
Let’s start with one of the big boys, the Prodigi Connect 12. A recent addition to the VI product market and a very welcome one. Straddling the immense power of a Samsung Galaxy Tab 12 Pro the Prodigi Connect 12 is a very powerful android tablet that is packed full of features to help anyone with sight loss. The main aim of this super advanced computer is to allow users to read documents in either crystal clear print or have it read to you in one of two synthetic voices. Using the Galaxy’s camera you are able to take a picture of any printed text and within seconds you will have it on your screen, ready and raring for you to make sense of. The Prodigi’s powerful text to speech engine gives you word for word accuracy beaten by no other text to speech reader around.
The text is grabbed into a separate screen from the usual live view and is then presented to you almost as if you were a newsreader reading out the latest news about something we probably aren’t too concerned about. This feature is great as you do not have to move anything, the machine does it all for you. All you do is sit back, or in my case as close to the screen as possible and relax whilst you read. Brilliant work from Humanware.
If, like me, you suffer with fatigue and can’t actually read for too long before your eyes start to itch uncontrollably after seconds of opening them, or if after a few minutes of reading your documents you wonder why you even bothered to get out of bed that day, why not have the information read to you. A couple of button presses and you are away. If you have ever seen the comedian ‘Lost Voice Guy’ you can even have his voice read things to you. If you haven’t seen him, then go to YouTube and check him out, he is hilarious. Of course these synthetic voices aren’t perfect but they are starting to convey emotions. It’s actually quite scary.
Another reason to go out and buy yourself one of these great devices is the fact that you can pull text from the internet, save it to the Prodigi software and get Graham to read it back to you whenever you wish. I realise this is the first mention of Graham, don’t worry, Prodigi Connect doesn’t come with some crazy stalker, Graham is the synthetic voice that comes along with Prodigi, nice chap.
As well as having the ability to get any printed material read to you, Prodigi Connect 12 is essentially a 12inch android tablet. The Samsung Galaxy Pro which in itself is an impressive piece of kit, I will not go into details but to have the ability to use all of the android apps as well as the extremely powerful text to speech software makes the Prodigi Connect 12 a must have if you are a visually impaired tech geek just like me.
That’s it for now, until next time – take care