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January 5, 2005

Athlete's goal clearly in mind

From: The Age, Australia - Jan 5, 2005

By Stathi Paxinos
January 5, 2005

Last year, Lara Hollow-Williams forgot, just for a short time, the reason she had embarked on a gruelling training regime. After two years of a fast-tracked schedule, she reached the starting blocks of the 100 metres sprint events at the Athens Paralympics primed for a medal.

Her face, her mother later told her, was so contorted with anxiety that she was barely recognisable. She was seventh, then broke down, thinking the result was a dreadful failure.

Hollow-Williams, who was born partially deaf and began to lose her eyesight four years ago, had to reassess the reason she had embarked on such a determined journey that had taken her to the world blind championships in 2003, the Paralympics and now the Deaflympics, where she will be running the 100, 200 and 400 metres.

"I completely broke down after my first race in the 100. I just totally reassessed why I was there. I had my self worth placed in getting a medal, not the journey of getting to the race," Hollow-Williams said.

She realised she was there to gain experience and have fun. She started the 400 race smiling. When she finished fifth, she lay down on the track and realised that she still had the fire to run competitively.

"That's what keeps me going, remembering that one little moment at the end of my 400 metres," she said. "That's what keeps me going every day now because that's what it is about, the enjoyment of it, not whether or not I get a medal. I think before Athens, success for me meant a medal. (Now) I have had to come down from that and I'm (in) a totally different head space to what I was before Athens."

Hollow-Williams, who has been running for only two years, said it was a philosophy she would take into her events at the Deaflympics, where she is regarded as a chance of snaring a medal. She was born with moderate to severe deafness and until a few months ago, she had never heard the sound of her own feet. She started wearing high-tech hearing aids and the improvement was immediate, as she could now hear whether her running style was uneven - whereas previously, she had favoured one leg.

However, in competition, her poor eyesight has caused more of a problem. She has been diagnosed with Ushers Syndrome - a degenerative disease that causes progressive loss of eyesight and hearing loss - and spent her 19th birthday "giving up my licence and and doing all the yucky paperwork and finding my new label as legally blind".

It was a blow for the Queenslander, who now has peripheral vision of only 16 degrees and often cannot see her opposition when she runs. But Hollow-Williams said it just drove her harder to reach her competitive targets. She now runs the 100 in 13.4 seconds, 200 in 27 and 400 in 63.5 and was hopeful of running close to her personal-best times.

But she said she has learnt far more in her time in the Deaflympics team than how to handle the pressure of intentional competition. "I've never been involved with the deaf as much as I am here, so for me, this has been a huge learning curve, learning how . . . much my sight impairs my ability to communicate because sometimes because I don't see them signing."

Copyright © 2005. The Age Company Ltd.