Teenager Sara McFadden has become the first visually impaired person to compete in Irish rallying.
The 17-year-old, who recently acquired her competition licence, was co-driver to her father, Keith, in their Renault Clio and competed in yesterday’s Ollie Kierce Motors Imokilly Rally at Midleton in east Cork.
While it was a lifetime ambition, the achievement was all the more remarkable given that Sara was born with albinism — a genetic condition typified by the partial or complete absence of pigment in the skin, hair, and eyes. In addition, Sara has to cope with nystagmus.
“In addition to albinism, the muscles behind Sara’s eyes never developed correctly so her eyes move on a constant basis,” said her mother Sandra. “So reading the pace notes was another obstacle that Sara had to overcome.”
But the McFadden family were overjoyed yesterday.
“Sara was born into rallying and we had her at her first motorsport event six weeks after she was born,” said Sandra.
The teenager, from Castlebar, Co Mayo, satisfied the criteria laid down by both Motorsport Ireland and the National Council for the Blind in Ireland.
“She is so determined it’s unbelievable,” said Sandra. “Her teachers at Davitt College in Castlebar have gone far beyond the call of duty. Sara cannot see the blackboard so she works through an iPad; her teachers write out all the notes and email them to her.”
Sara won All-Ireland silver with the Mayo camogie development squad, but motorsport is her true passion. Told by her doctor when she was just 12 that she would never be able to drive, Sara was quick off the mark and told her parents: “Well, I can still navigate.”
Several visits to a kart track in Tynagh, Co Galway, provided the safe location for Sara to hone her skills as a co-driver as she called the pace notes. Last Saturday evening, a test stage prior to the rally gave them their first real test.
“I really didn’t know what way I was going to react or feel,” said Keith. “But after the first few corners I knew this was serious and she was right on the notes.
“We had two more runs over the stage and I have no reservations.”
Sara isn’t fazed about
it all, saying: “I think one should do everything they want to do.”
As for her new-found acclaim, she said: “I’m just wondering will this helmet be able to fit me after all the lovely comments.”
Her motorsport debut brought Keith out of a four-year retirement; indeed, he may just be about to enjoy a second rally career, albeit due to a very determined daughter. Asked how she felt after her endeavours, she said: “It was a pure rush, I just want to keep going.”
Just try stopping her indeed.
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