"Feel the fear and do it anyway - that's my motto!"

Sharon Tracey climbing Croagh Patrick
Sharon climbing Croagh Patrick

Feel the fear and do it anyway. That’s my life motto, stolen from the title of my favourite book!” Sharon Tracey’s love for life is palpable, and contagious. “I made a decision a long time ago to think about my disability as a challenge to overcome, not a barrier. That mental shift changed my life.” But that shift didn’t come easily.

Sharon Tracey was 18 when she was diagnosed with Stargardt disease. She wore glasses throughout her school years but could never see the blackboard clearly; she just assumed everyone had blurred vision. It wasn’t until she began having problems navigating that she visited her GP and insisted they refer her to a specialist.

Sharon was told that her eyesight would deteriorate and there was nothing they could do for her. At the time Sharon was still grieving her grandmother, who raised her, and it felt like her world had collapsed around her. She was in a dark place. But her strength to make the decision to see her disability as an obstacle, and not a barrier, changed her life.

Stargardt Disease is an inherited retinal degeneration which causes progressive loss of vision as a result of damage to the central region of the retina known as the macula.

Sharon trained as a blind telephonist in Sligo and secured work experience with the Midland Health Board Tullamore. Since then her career has taken her to Guinness in Dublin, the Department of Education in Athlone and eventually back to Tullamore to the Department of Education and Skills where Sharon is an Executive Officer.

And that’s just the day job. “I love learning and meeting new people and have qualifications in Equality Studies, Counselling skills, Life Coaching, Reflexology, Access Consciousness, Integrated Energy Therapy and Reiki.” explains Sharon.

“I also give motivational talks on the subject of disability. I’m a strong believer in everyone acknowledging their abilities and accepting their limitations and asking for help. We’re all human, we all need support – whether you have a disability or not. Visual impairment can be seen as a barrier to a full life, but it doesn’t have to be.”

Sharon certainly doesn’t let Stargardt disease hold her back. “I love travelling; I’m making a serious dent into my destination bucket list! I’ve visited most major cities in Europe, LA, California, Las Vegas, Abu Dhabi, Egypt, Cuba, Niagara Falls, Nashville, Graceland, the Grand Canyon, snorkelling in the Red Sea and a pilgrimage to Lourdes, Mejagorrie and the Himalayas in India. I only have some peripheral vision left but my friend and travel companion, Niamh, is absolutely brilliant at describing landmarks in detail.”

Sharon regularly puts her own motto to the test here in Ireland too. She has kissed the Blarney Stone (despite her fear of heights), climbed Croagh Patrick in the snow and cycled the Ring of Kerry on a tandem bike.

“The grey dark day in 1985 seems like just the other day; however so much has happened to me since then. I live a very full and enjoyable life. I work full time in a permanent job, I’ve raised my beautiful daughter and I am in a loving relationship with a wonderful man. The things I thought I would never have I have achieved them and continue to enjoy life to its fullest.”

“At the start of every year I make a plan with short, medium and long term goals. Then every December I review the goals, what I achieved, what I didn’t and why. I hate to sound like a cliché but this isn’t a dress rehearsal – you only get one life. I would encourage other people living with sight loss not to give into the fear. Don’t let your sight limit your life, there are ways around everything. Feel the fear and do it anyway.”

Sharon is a Fighting Blindness media ambassador and regularly speaks to radio stations and newspapers about the importance of research and support services for people living with sight loss.

If you would like to share your story of sight loss please email communications@fightingblindness.ie.