Recently, Guide Dogs client Michele Watts won the top title for her tournament in the 2018 Blind Golf World Championships in Rome.
Michele’s sight loss journey
Michele began to lose her sight in 2015 with the onset of Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON), a rare genetic condition which caused her to lose central vision in her left eye. A year later, she lost vision in her right eye and was diagnosed as legally blind.
While Michele had heard of LHON before – her brother was diagnosed with the eye condition as a teenager – her sight loss was sudden and unexpected.
“While I knew it was genetic, when I was younger I was told that the condition only effects males. So even when I began losing my sight, I never thought it would be LHON. I thought that maybe my vision loss was connected with an eye operation that I had. It was a real mystery,” Michele said.
At the time of diagnosis, the Sydney Eye Hospital referred Michele to Guide Dogs.
Michele received a variety of services from Guide Dogs
“At first, I worked with a Guide Dogs O&M Specialist named Elaine. She was terrific. She introduced me to the long cane and showed me how to use it,” Michele said.
“At this point in time I was in complete foreign territory. I was quite panicky and stressed, but Elaine was so calm and really helped me adjust. She also introduced me to the expansive benefits of using accessibility features on your iPhone including transport apps.
“It was a combination of both O&M and technology that empowered me and made me realise I could still be in communication with people. It gave me my independence back,” she said.
Michele also had several visits to the Guide Dogs Low Vision Clinic for assessments. She was given practical items to trial such as antiglare glasses and a monocular to help her spot signs. As her journey with Blind Golf began, she used the monocular to spot the flag on the putting green.
“I also had several visits from a Guide Dogs Occupational Therapist to my home because all of a sudden, I couldn’t identify anything in the bathroom drawer. My OT helped me set up a system in the bathroom and also assisted me with kitchen items,” Michele said.
Michele’s journey with Blind Golf
Michele first heard of Blind Golf at the Chatswood Golf Club where she played.
“There was a lady there that played Blind Golf, and ironically, I always thought I’d become a Blind Golf volunteer one day when I had enough time. So when I lost my sight, I decided to continue to play at my local club with assistance but also check out Blind Golf,” Michele said.
“I would encourage anyone who is thinking of joining Blind Golf to give it a go. Blind Golf NSW will assist you with lessons if you haven’t played before, and your caddy will act as your eyes to help line up and find the ball, so it’s an easy pathway entry should anyone want to try it,” she said.
For Michele, working with a caddy is her favourite thing about playing Blind Golf.
Caddies enable you to do the sport you love because they become your eyes, so it becomes much more of a team sport than playing normal sighted golf. They enable you to share the highs and lows of the tournament with someone,” Michele said.
Reflecting on her World Championship win, Michele said:
“It feels fantastic, and I certainly didn’t think that I’d ever be a champion at anything. I’ve always been a participator, but Blind Golf has opened a world of opportunities for me. I look back now at the World Championships with a bit of shock. It was a whirlwind two weeks, a great adventure and it I felt lucky to share the experience with my two friends who were my caddies.”