Claire Lawrence in bikini photoshoot
Image of Claire in black bathing suit

I have always dreamt of being strong. I grew up watching people like Sarah Connor, GI Jane, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other strong female role models. Being told at eight that I was losing my sight made me feel weak – I wanted to feel strong.
By Claire Lawrence

A constant loss of sight with no stability can be quite traumatic. I have a degenerative eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa. Usually this is genetic, however no-one else in my family has it. I was diagnosed when I was eight years old – I had normal sight before then and progressively lost it throughout my life. I was meant to be totally blind by the time I was 20 but now at the grand old age of 36 I am still hanging onto a tiny percentage of useful vision, I put this down to my healthy lifestyle and clean eating.

I have always loved lifting weights. The best thing about weights is that they usually stay where you put them, so having no sight isn’t a issue – as long as you know where your weights are you can lift them! Knowing that you are capable of lifting incredibly heavy weights also gives you a bizarre sense of confidence in the world. I might not be able to drive, go to places I don’t know independently or do some very simple things that people with sight can do – but there are some amazing things that I can now do that ‘normal’ people can’t. My level of fitness makes me feel strong, confident and happy with my body and what it can do.

“Not being able to see means that I often think that everyone looks a lot better than I do.” 

I train in an industry which is focused on how you look and I can’t even see myself in the mirror – it’s quite bizarre!

I do photoshoots so I can see the results I have achieved in my physique. I use touch and try to feel the changes in my body but it is misleading and doesn’t represent what other people see. I am lucky enough to be able to zoom in on a very high contrast photo and get an idea of the definition of my body, which helps. Generally, not being able to see means that I often think that everyone looks a lot better than I do – I assume that everyone is fitter, healthier, more attractive and has better definition. I have close people in my life who try to reassure me, but it is very difficult. I know I will go totally blind very soon, so I have no idea how I will continue in this area – I think I will focus far more on what I’m capable of doing and not what I look like, which to be honest is probably a healthier way to live!

Personal style

I cleanse, tone and moisturise everyday and that’s it. Being blind means doing make-up is not really possible. If I have a photo shoot I tend to have someone do my make-up, even then I refuse to have extreme make-up done. I don’t have the ability to see myself in the mirror so photographs are the only time I get to zoom in and have a look at myself. Because of this I prefer see what I look like naturally. When buying clothes and make-up I can’t see what goes together, I have to just know myself and know my body. I think the fact that I tend to live in a gym kit really does help!

Barriers to fitness

Generally, UK gyms are not very accessible. But for visually impaired people gyms are massively inaccessible! The most inaccessible machines are those that have touchscreen technology, like treadmills and cardio machines. If you can’t see the screen or feel the buttons, you just can’t use them. Also, people not putting weights back in the right order is a massive issue! The way I have overcome barriers to getting fit has been by enlisting the help of experts. I have been lucky enough to train with some of the strongest people in the world, my last coach Dean Maden, is a UK strongest man competitor. I have worked with a number of different personal trainers over my five year lifting career, all with different specialities, all who have brought wonderful new techniques and styles of training to my life. I like to think that I that have helped them too, by giving them the opportunity to experience what it is like to train with a blind client.

COVID 19 or ‘The apocalypse’ which is what I affectionately call it, has changed my training dramatically. I am lucky enough to have a well-stocked gym in my garage (I must have known this was going to happen!). This includes a full Olympic bar, sandbags, pull-up bars, a full range of dumbbells – you name it, I have it! I have just been furloughed from work, so all I have to do at the moment is train. When the apocalypse is over I plan to have a photoshoot to show just what I have achieved over this lockdown period. Follow Claire on Instagram: @bodybuilding_blindling

Also check out: @progress_works_gym, @strong.lean.fit and @becometrain

Photography by: @denyerPro