Registered blind since birth, due to a genetic condition called Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis, Anna Foo lost her vision completely at the age of 15 years. Now 21 years old, Anna has been climbing since 2018 during her first year of her Liberal Arts degree at university. Blind Athlete, GB Paraclimber and Shining Star: An Interview with Anna Foo.
Within her first year of climbing Anna landed a place on Team GB Paraclimbing Team in 2019 and a place on the King’s Sport Performance Scholarship Programme for the 2019-2020. Also a member of the WestWay Squad, Anna has gained invaluable training opportunities which has enabled her to launch further into her abilities.
Throughout her childhood Anna struggled to access sport and exercise which affected the way she viewed both her disability and herself more broadly. Upon discovering climbing in her late teenage years this has acted as a major milestone in her confidence and general disposition towards being blind.
“I hope to use my own experiences to increase opportunities for others in similar situations.”– Anna Foo, Blind Athlete, GB Paraclimber
Anna is a fantastic climber and she uses a sight guide to communicate along the routes. Connecting herself with the belayer through a radio headset, Anna uses the clock face to understand where holds are located. Her identity as a paraclimber is not purely based on physicality but is also strongly related to the community she has been so fortunate to have met. Continuously keeping her psyched and advocating for inclusivity which is so important in climbing.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Anna, not only a blind athlete and GB Paraclimber but especially a shining star to watch out for in future paraclimbing competitions and with Paraclimbing London. Follow her on Instagram at @anna_paraclimbs
1. What made you begin climbing, and do you ever wish you’d started sooner?
I started climbing 3 years ago during my first year of university. I was at a welcome fair and decided to sign up for the first sport on my right which happened to be climbing so I got quite lucky. My knowledge of the sport was pretty much non-existent, but the society president was really welcoming, and I became gradually more addicted as time went on.
To some extent I do wish I’d started earlier, especially when someone half my age is casually flashing my project. I also think the physical and mental benefits of climbing would have made things a lot easier growing up. However, everything in relation to my climbing development has been quite spontaneous, so who knows if I would have come across the same amazing people, or even had a positive experience if I’d started at a younger age.
2. When you are on the wall, how does climbing make you feel?
Generally very focused, content and empowered, until someone tells me to toe hook and then I just panic. My favourite time to be on the wall is when I’ve been projecting a route, and eventually all the moves fit together and flow nicely; it’s so satisfying.
3. Can you tell me about losing your vision entirely at 15 and how it impacted your life?
I’ve always been registered blind, but had light, colour and shape perception until I was 15 when it all disappeared. In a physical sense I was quite lucky and there wasn’t a huge amount of adaptation, as I’d already had to learn things like using a screen reader on my laptop/ phone, and using a cane to navigate. This largely meant I carried on as normal, and didn’t really process it properly at the time.
These days I don’t really feel as if it has impacted life negatively overall; on the plus side it is much easier to explain to people when they ask how much I could see. The only thing I do think about is whether I’d climb differently if I still had some vision, and whether I’d be any less reluctant to move dynamically.
4. What is your dream to achieve climbing with the GB paraclimbing team?
I’ve been on the GB paraclimbing team for two years now and haven’t actually made it out to an international competition so that’s definitely top of the list. I enjoy the adrenaline of competing, so I am really excited for the 2022 competition season. More broadly, I’d like to use my position on the team as a platform to promote inclusion within the sport, and increase representation. Paraclimbers are split into categories according to disability and its severity, and currently my category (B1) is always merged with the category below as there are too few athletes for it to run independently. I’d love to see this change in the future.
5. You climb a lot outdoors a lot, what is your favourite outdoor route and why?
I’m not sure if I have a favourite route because I’m extremely indecisive, but in terms of crags so far I’d say Rhossili in Wales but there is still a lot left to explore. The rock was phenomenal, especially all the sharp crimps.
6. Would you say climbing has changed your life?
Yes, it definitely has for the better. I’ve been lucky to meet the most supportive community of people who have really changed the way I perceive being blind. Growing up I faced quite a lot of discrimination, so to find a sport where I feel fully able to participate has been an absolute game changer.
7. What advice would you pass on to blind or visually impaired youth who are scared to try something like climbing?
I think this is a complicated one as it really depends on individual circumstances, where the fear is coming from and what opportunities people have. Generally speaking, I’d say just go for it and enjoy the experience. If you have specific questions or concerns, your local wall would probably be a good source of information and there are also an increasing number of paraclimbing clubs you can get involved with depending on location. My Instagram direct messages (@anna_paraclimbs) are always open if you want to chat or have any questions that I can attempt to answer.
8. Which outdoor climbing adventure is your dream to explore one day?
I have way too many on the list, but it would be good to work on my head game and eventually lead some trad. In terms of the immediate future, I’m based in London and obviously I don’t drive so getting to any crag is a huge novelty, but I think a trip to Kalymnos (or anywhere which isn’t freezing) could be a good shout!