A blind local councillor is to take on her first triathlon in the hope it inspires others to believe they too can tackle challenges “no matter what level you are at”.
Ellie Southwood, 41, a Labour councillor in Queen’s Park, London, is the only blind participant competing in the Super Sprint at the Blenheim Palace Triathlon, which takes place from June 3 to 4.
The event will see her complete a 400m open water swim, 2.9km run and ride a tandem around the 10km course, alongside running coach Sophie Barnard, who will be tethered to her for the run and swim and who has never guided in a triathlon before.
“I’ve never done a triathlon in the past”, Ms Southwood, who lives in Willesden Green, London, told the PA news agency.
“I thought this one would be fun to do because of the amazing, huge effort of the local community.
“They’ll be (154) of us (from community fitness initiative Kensal Tri) all heading to Blenheim at the weekend and everybody is fundraising for local charities, so it’ll be like taking our own community to Blenheim.”
Ms Barnard said training with Ms Southwood has been a “‘very rewarding” process.
“It’s very different to anything I’ve ever done before – I haven’t ridden a tandem before, so I was very anxious about it”, the 53-year-old, who also lives in Willesden Green, told PA.
“Knowing that Ellie has had a go on a tandem before though gave me some confidence.”
The pair have taken part in events together in the past, with Ms Barnard saying: “Running with Ellie is like running with a rockstar.”
Ms Barnard said that even though she was “emotionally shaky” when using the tandem on her first attempt, they are now confident.
“We had a really successful training cycle on Saturday, which was really confidence boosting.
“The swimming has been really interesting as well – I really enjoy our sessions.
“I have never swum attached to anybody, but it felt quite natural.”
Ms Southwood said that the cycling has been her favourite of three sports “because it’s the one where I feel like once we get going, we’re really going”, while Ms Barnard is a big fan of the swimming.
Money raised will go towards refugee charity Salusbury World, which is based in Queen’s Park and who Ms Southwood said has been “delighted we wanted to support their work”.
“Queen’s Park has a really long history of welcoming various waves of refugees from all over the world… and it’s something that I think our area is really special for”, she added.
“These organisations are under massive pressure and so we thought we’d help in any way we could.”
Some participants in the Kensal Tri Team will also be refugees.
Ms Southwood said that she is most looking forward to seeing other people participate in the triathlon over the weekend.
“Depending on how the timings work, we’ll be able to see the other people doing this as well and we’re really keen to, especially because we’ve had so much support from everyone over these past couple of weeks.
“I’m looking forward to being able to support other people as well and that sense of collective effort is really magical.”
Ms Barnard shared the same sentiments, adding that the site is “beautiful” and that she hopes to soak up the energy and support from those in attendance.
Giles Deards, the organiser of the Kensal Tri, added that Ms Barnard and Ms Southwood’s story has had an inspiring effect on the other participants.
“The (others on the team) have all been following what Sophie and Ellie have been doing and found it inspirational for their own training”, the 53-year-old, who lives in Queen’s Park, told PA.
“Around this time each year, I usually find that around 10-12 of our giant team suddenly claim niggles or pains and pull out, but that’s not happened this time and I think that’s largely to do with Ellie and Sophie setting such an inspiring example.”
Ms Southwood added: “You can tackle it at whatever level you are at it, in terms of fitness or confidence.”
She has also encouraged people to volunteer to become guides at park runs.
“It really is the definition of inclusivity, but without volunteers, those with a visual impairment may not be able to take part.
“You don’t need a qualification to do it and it’s a very personally rewarding experience.”
The fundraising page can be found here: https://www.justgiving.com/page/elliesophietandemtri