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April 11, 2006

Five weeks training...1 bronze medal!

From: Leeds Today - Leeds,UK - Apr 11, 2006

Deaf athlete is GB cross country star (despite the short notice)


LEEDS athlete Serena Blackburn has never had the roar of the crowd to inspire her over the finishing line.

The 41-year-old mum-of-three was born deaf. But her disability hasn't hampered her success – and she is currently celebrating after winning a bronze medal for Great Britain.

Serena, of Horsforth, was thrilled when she was picked to compete in the European Deaf Cross Country Championships in Portugal.

But she almost gave up her place when she realised the two-day event was only five weeks away.

"When they told me I had been picked I said 'no' because it was too soon to train.

"But they said, because it only happens every four years, I should just go and have the experience of a lifetime.

"I was ecstatic but I was just concentrating on training rather than what it would be like when I got there."

She added: "I learned a lot from the experience – meeting other nationalities. It was easy to communicate because with sign language there was no language barrier and they were all really friendly."

Mrs Blackburn's deafness stems from her birth, which was three months premature.

She works for Education Leeds as a part-time peripatetic teacher of the deaf, helping to identify students' needs, supporting them and providing information about deaf culture.

She has been running with Horsforth Harriers for five years and took third place in the 2002 Leeds Marathon before she decided to apply to Deaf UK Athletics (DUKA) for a place in the seven-strong squad, consisting of four women and three men.

She said the only difference for deaf athletes was that visual indicators were used as well as audio – so the starter would wave a flag as well as firing a gun.

It was the first time women had represented Great Britain in the championships. They competed in the 8km and took bronze in the 4km, behind Russia in first, and Ukraine.

Unfortunately, as the athletes had to pay their own travel costs, her husband, Simon, and their daughters, Jenny, 16, 13-year-old Carly and 18-year-old Holly, who are also both deaf, couldn't be there to share her proud moment.

Around 134 athletes from 16 countries competed in the event in Oeiras, near Lisbon.

Mrs Blackburn has already been asked to represent Great Britain again in future events, including another European contest, in Bulgaria, in September.

© 2006 Leeds Today