Melissa Perrine has had limited eyesight since birth. With little vision in her left eye, she sees anything more than a half metre away as coloured blurs.
As such, she relies heavily on other senses, which have been honed by years of playing sport. Hearing and feel, especially of the ground under her feet, are particularly important.
But the 25-year-old physiotherapy student regularly removes herself from that security. Perrine is a Paralympic alphine skier who is a member of the Australian team that will compete at the Winter Games in Sochi.
The downhill courses include a jump which the competitors, depending on their level of eyesight (there are three classifications of vision impaired competition including being blind), may have little awareness of until they are almost airborne.
They are warned of the approach by their guides, who ski a short distance in front of them and are in constant radio communication, but the feeling of “taking air” was still unnerving for Perrine.
“Taking jumps is definitely something that is really, really quite hard. Even now it’s definitely not my favourite thing to do,” she says.
“Because we don’t have our vision we rely so much on our hearing and our sense of feel and we get all our feel we can through our feet and if lose that feel it’s very scary.
“It’s still something that I struggle to deal with and am constantly working on. That’s how we get around through feel, especially in skiing, if you lose that feeling things become very difficult.”
But that has not held back Perrine, who has qualified in the B2 classification for skiers with limited eyesight, for the slalom race in Sochi and is looking to add another four events.
Head coach of the Paralympic winter program Steve Graham said he was expecting to take a team of up to five alpine skiers and two snowboarders to Sochi, which is a smaller team than those that competed at the two previous Games.
He said a decision had been made to concentrate efforts on those who had a genuine chance of winning medals; Perrine, Australia’s first female world championships medallist with a silver and two bronze in 2011, was one.
“What we realised was yes it was great having a big team and having the diversity but the conditions in winter sport you never know what you’re going to get and in Vancouver we got horrendous conditions,” Graham said.
“So we’re not necessarily taking anybody for the experience. We’re taking people we think can medal so if the weather goes crazy and the weather in Russia particularly very fickle, we’ll be able to focus all our attentions on those who can win.”
“It’s quite a bit smaller than the last two games teams but the quality across the board is greater.”
Perrine began skiing when she was 12 years old and made her first Australian team in 2009, competing at the Vancouver winter Paralympics the following year where her best result from five events was fifth in the downhill after she suffered a fractured hip in racing two months earlier.
She is approaching Sochi in good form, having won a gold in the super combined and silver in the super-G at the New Zealand world cup late last month and this week’s world cup event in Thredbo, which starts Monday, will give her another opportunity to push her credentials.
It will also provide her mother, Denise, the chance to see Perrine, who competed in gymnastics and swimming as she grew up, ski for the first time as the family lived far from the snowfields, in the NSW southern highlands town of Mittagong.
“My mother thinks I’m crazy but she’s very supportive,” Perrine says. “Actually both my parents are very supportive in what I want to do with the sport.”
“They worry of course that it’s a dangerous sport but they are very proud of what I’ve achieved. My mum thinks I’m nuts but she thinks it’s cool though.”
“… They’ve never given me any sort of excuses with my disability. I’ve always been encouraged to do anything I possibly can.”
“I grew up with an older brother and I was always playing round with him.
“We’re a big sporting family so I’ve always been encourage to do anything I possibly can.”
“I was put into gymnastics when I was four years old and gymnastics is an extremely sight-based sport so there was never any excuses growing up.
“It was always do as much as I possibly can. My parents didn’t want to place any restrictions on what I did so I think they’re happy I found a sport I really love.”
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.