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Double-gold medallist, paralympic sprinter and new mum, Libby Clegg MBE has been wowing audiences since joining the cast of ITV's Dancing on Ice.
The show’s first ever contestant with sight loss, 29-year-old Libby has an inherited condition called Stargardt’s Macular Dystrophy and is registered blind.
But the champion athlete is used to the challenges of competition and determined to hold her own against fellow sighted contestants. Her skating partner Mark Hanretty constantly talks her through every move.
When she competes in 100 and 200 metre sprints, Libby uses an arm strap to connect her with her sighted partner, so she’s used to putting her trust in someone while moving at speed. But the lifts, spins and skate blades add a whole new level of risk, as Libby explains.
‘As I can’t see the required skating moves before I try them out, I’m reliant on Mark’s powers of description to guide me through. Trust and communication are a key part of being successful and making the partnership work, and I ask a million questions.
‘Also, I can hear whether it sounds right. When you skate well it makes a kind of biting noise on the ice and when you do it badly it makes a scratchy noise, which I hear frequently!
‘Sometimes I think I might have a slight advantage to my fellow contestants, since my lack of vision actually makes the twists, turns and spins easier as I don’t get dizzy.’
Mark is full of praise for Libby, ‘Being around someone who’s registered blind and yet copes with life so well, there aren’t words to describe how impressed I am with her. Libby is an incredible human being and I feel I couldn’t have been blessed with a better partner.’
Libby’s partner in real life is fellow paralympian Dan Powell, a judo athlete who is also registered blind as he has cone rod dystrophy.
Last April, they became proud parents to baby Edward and are waiting to see whether he has inherited sight loss. Libby’s condition is recessive, so he won’t develop that but there’s a 50/50 chance Dan’s could be inherited.
There’s another supportive partner in Libby’s life – her gorgeous guide dog Hatti. Libby was paired with Hatti, a black retriever/labrador cross, five years ago and she’s been accompanying Libby to her training sessions with dance partner Mark.
Now an ambassador the Guide Dogs charity, Libby says she applied for a guide dog because she was getting fed up of having to explain herself to people.
‘Because I don’t really look visually impaired, if I bumped into somebody, I felt like I had to give them my life story. Not only that but I was nearly hit by a car on a couple of occasions, so my family were worried about me. I also walked into a hedge one-day, full body.
‘Hatti is invaluable – she has supported me to live my life with confidence, independence and on own my own terms. She can’t join me on the ice, but Hatti is always there for me rink-side.”