GB Paralympics star Stephen Clegg, 20, like his sister Libby and brother James, 22 (who won bronze in the S12 100m butterfly in 2012), has Stargardt’s macular dystrophy, which leads to the loss of central vision. (Their 24-year-old sister Felicity is fully sighted.)
Stephen began training seriously only just over two years ago; this Monday he will be making his Paralympic debut in Rio. He will compete in the S12 50m, 100m and 400m freestyle and 100m backstroke. He describes his vision as “half a metre in my right eye and a little more in my left”.
What are your challenges in the pool?
“With backstroke, my eyesight is a massive issue. Sighted people know where the wall is because the lane markers change colour ve metres out to tell you where you are. I have to count my strokes instead – in my case that’s 38 strokes per length in backstroke.
“The backstroke turn is quite scary, because I’m never sure if I’m too far from the wall or so close that I’m going to hit my head. Swimming in a straight line isn’t so difficult, although I do weave a bit, because I can’t be guided by the lines on the ceiling. Counting is less important with freestyle: the pad on the wall is neon yellow and I can see it.”
Tell us about your eye condition
“I was diagnosed at nine. It wasn’t too bad back then, but it’s got worse. The deterioration happens every now and again in a big drop, which was quite distressing when I was younger. I’m used to it now and I just deal with it. I’m not sure if I will eventually lose my sight altogether. It stabilises for some, while others go totally blind.”
Were you a late bloomer?
“I did a few galas when I was younger, although I wasn’t very good. It wasn’t until I was 17 that I started training seriously – most start around age ten – and now I train about 30 hours a week.
“I was focused on schoolwork before that – I’ve always wanted to be a marine biologist, and I plan to study it at university after the world championships next year.”
What are your hopes for Rio?
“It feels like I’ve got up at 4.30am far too many times this year, so I can be in the pool an hour later. I don’t know what to expect – the 100m backstroke is my rst event, and there are six or seven of us in contention for gold.”