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Jenny's Special Olympics skating

Photo: Read Jenny's story

Jenny (20), who is severely deaf, has overcome many barriers to get to the Special Olympics.

Gliding confidently across the ice at her local rink, Jenny demonstrates the routine she performed at the Special Olympics 2017 World Winter Games in Austria in March. Watching her, many wouldn’t realise just how far she has come.

Soon after she was born brain scans revealed an abnormality and her neurologist predicted that she’d be unlikely to either walk or talk. However, aged three she started walking and took up horse riding to help with her balance and coordination problems. Around this time Jenny was also diagnosed with a moderate to severe hearing loss.

“We believe she’d been deaf since birth, but because of her learning disability we put the lack of speech down to her developmental delay,” explains mum Helena. “We had various tests because she kept getting constant ear infections. Every time we went to ENT they said she’d got glue ear and things just dragged on.

Eventually we said we’d like another opinion and we saw a different ENT who decided she needed grommets and she had her adenoids removed. After that she still couldn’t hear any differently, so then she got her first hearing aids. It was only when she was actually aided that we realised the sounds she’d been missing.”

“I was nervous about the surgery but also excited I’d be able to learn to hear again.”

Jenny’s hearing deteriorated and by the time she was 12 she’d completely lost her hearing in one ear and was assessed for cochlear implants.

“She loved music and dancing, so it was making us feel sad – the thought that she’d lost her hearing completely in one ear and it was likely she’d lose what bit of hearing she had left in the other ear. We felt it was really our only option and we had the surgery done,” remembers Helena.

“I was nervous about the surgery but also excited I’d be able to learn to hear again,” says Jenny. “The month after the surgery, whilst waiting for the processors, was the hardest.

While the cochlear implants helped with Jenny’s hearing, they didn’t assist with her balance and coordination and she continued riding, swimming and dancing lessons. When her sister Hannah (23) and Helena started ice-skating, her physiotherapist suggested it might also help her.

“When she first started she spent most of her time on the floor."

“Hannah and I were having group lessons, but there was no way Jenny would have managed in a group of 20 people with one coach,” says Helena. So Jenny had one-to-one lessons for a few years.

“When she first started she spent most of her time on the floor,” Helena remembers, and Jenny herself admits she sometimes got fed up with it.

Jenny was determined though and carried on skating, despite her initial frustrations with balance, and was able to combine her love of music and dancing on the ice by performing routines to music. She trains at least three times a week and is often on the ice at 6am.

“I think it’s given her concentration skills because when she’s on that ice there are lots of people skating round and she can’t hear where they’re coming from so she has to be so aware of where everybody is,” Helena says.

Additionally, Jenny’s coach has incorporated some signs into her training to make it easier for her on the ice, as well as scoring the ice with his skates to give her visual instructions.

Representing Great Britain in the World Winter Games 2017

Through Inclusive Skating, a charity for disabled skaters, Jenny has had the opportunity to participate in several competitions in Dumfries, Glasgow and Iceland. Her most recent Special Olympics competition was in Glasgow, where she won a gold medal and qualified to represent Great Britain in the World Winter Games 2017.

Jenny had to apply for her place on the team, completing the competition in Glasgow as well as being interviewed with her family. “We were so chuffed,” says Helena about receiving the news that Jenny could participate. “Then the realisation set in that we had to raise £2,500 to pay for it on top of all the lessons and equipment, so we set to raising money.”

The family organised fundraising events with the help of their local community. Jenny also attended various training weekends around the UK before the event so the athletes could get to know each other.

Alongside this Jenny is studying catering at college and works part-time. Helena is quick to praise Jenny’s employer and the family’s local disability employment team, both of which have been very supportive.

Jenny’s highlights from the World Winter Games in Austria include being taken to one of the sponsor’s headquarters and receiving messages from celebrity ambassadors of the Games including Nicole Scherzinger, the opening and closing ceremonies in Graz and meeting Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean.

"I’d like to teach them that it doesn’t matter if you fall, you can get yourself back up."

Long term, Jenny is considering teaching ice-skating and encouraging others to pursue their dreams, whether on or off the ice.

“I’d like to teach young people who have a disability or who are deaf. I’d like to teach them that it doesn’t matter if you fall, you can get yourself back up. There are so many paths for you out there. Whatever you want to do – if you want it, just go for it,” says Jenny.

“I don’t like seeing someone say to a deaf person, ‘You can’t do that,’ I just want to stand up for them. I’d like to say to all of them that you can do it; you just need to stand up for yourself. Just be yourself if you’re deaf or hard of hearing and get yourself out into the world and take your opportunities.”