The Southland Express is running a new series about people living and working in Southland. This week reporter PETRINA WRIGHT found out what it is like to be Hannah Pascoe, an extraordinary Southlander who has overcome a life-changing disability to chase her dreams.
HANNAH Pascoe may be blind, but in no way has she let it define her.
On the contrary, the 34-year-old Southlander is better known for her sporting prowess than her sight impairment.
Hannah was born with congenital glaucoma, a rare disease present at birth which causes high fluid pressure in the eye to damage the optic nerve.
Hannah said she had had reasonable sight growing up, “enough to get by”.
However, as a result of complications and her retinas ultimately detaching, she lost full sight in her left eye when she was 19 and the remaining sight in her right eye by the age of 25.
Hannah said she grieved the loss of her sight for a couple of years.
“There was a lot of fear at the start about how I was going to live if I was totally blind.
“It was terrifying at first, that thought of never being able to see again, the thought of going into darkness.”
It was “stubbornness,” which got her through that time, she said.
“I’ve never been that good at giving up.”
Being united with her guide dog Cora had also gone a long way to helping her adjust to her new reality, she said.
“The guide dog takes away a lot of the challenges of being blind, so much so that at times I forget I am blind.”
However, there were times when Hannah still grieved the loss of her sight.
“Whenever there is a dramatic change to my life, the grieving comes up again.”
Cora retiring from service in December last year was one such example.
“She was my companion as well as a working dog.”
Hannah was now using a cane to get around, while she waited for another guide dog to become available, but she was not as mobile with a cane as she was with her guide dog.
“There is a lot more mental work and concentration to get around with a cane.”
Although there were many challenges, Hannah said there were also many benefits of being blind.
“It’s not all doom and gloom.”
Her list of positives is long –
“I don’t judge people on their looks… you can tell a lot about people by their tone.
“I can get around the shops faster because I am not distracted by other things.
“My other senses are heightened, particularly my hearing.
“I’m not scared riding around the velodrome because I cannot see how steep it is.
“I can get around the house easily in the daytime or at night-time.
“Oh, and I have got the best memory.”
That innate stubbornness which helped Hannah overcome her disability had arguably gone a long way to helping her realise her sporting aspirations.
Hannah said she initially turned to sport as a way to work off some of her frustrations about going blind.
But, it wasn’t long before her obvious aptitude for high performance sport became evident.
To date, she has run 16 marathons, including two New York Marathons, two half ironman challenges and participated in the Westpac Chopper bike ride from Queenstown to Invercargill three times.
Hannah also represented New Zealand in the 2018 Para-Cycling Track World Championships in Rio de Janeiro, where she placed fifth in the world.
“I’m a goal driven person. I need something to focus on.
“I love it. I don’t like the pain, I just like the feeling afterwards.
“It’s who I am. I don’t know what else to be.”
Hannah was now taking a break from high pressure sports to focus on becoming a mother. Yes, she and her fiance Nick are expecting their first child in November.
“So far baby is super healthy,” she said.
“I know there are going to be challenges, but there is a lot of support out there.”
Hannah did not want people to feel sorry for her because of her disability.
“It’s only my eyes that don’t work, everything else does,” she said.
“We can still live full and awesome lives. It is perfectly possible.
“It is not easy and there are challenges every day, but it is possible.”
Quite simply, Hannah is living proof.