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Fearless Tegan sets her own pace

in Latest News, Stories of Independence

The muffled roar of the crowd, the sound of the water as it crashes and splashes around you. The sound of your sharp intake of breath, and the dull ache that pulses through your arms and legs. You push, hard. Willing your body onwards through the water. Your outstretched hand reaches for the cool, smooth of the tiles. It’s relief. You’ve done it.

You bob up in the water and the roar of the crowd explodes into your head. You can hear names being called on speakers, and whistles blow. The sound is immense. Someone leans down and taps you on the shoulder. “You’ve won Tegan. You’ve just broken another record! Congratulations. 53.36s!” The smile on your face hurts. Your body buzzes. This is worth it all. The long hours. The hard training. The rush, it’s all yours to enjoy.

Image of Tegan on the starting blocks, ready to begin backstroke.

Tegan Reder is a four-time Australian record breaker in the S11 swimming classification. Amongst other things, the fifteen year-old, who only began swimming 11 months ago, is a remarkable and accomplished swimmer at such a young age. There’s no doubt about it. What’s even more remarkable is that Tegan was born blind. A fact both she and her Mum Kathryn agree hasn’t ever stopped her doing what she sets her mind to.

“I live my own life. I do my own thing. I’m just like anyone else.”

Tegan has Leber Congenital Amaurosis, a rare condition in which the retinas don’t function. While this presents some physical challenges and has done all her life, her love of sport has played a key role in shaping Tegan into the confident, independent girl she is today.

“I love sports. I think I’ve tried almost everything!” says Tegan.

Her mother Kathryn laughs, and adds “Yes, just about. Remember there was tee ball, gymnastics, horse-riding and now swimming…!”

A self-confessed adrenaline junkie, Tegan first started horse riding when she would visit a friend’s property. Her love of animals and calm nature meant she grew close to the horses, and by 2012 she had decided to give vaulting a go. Much to Kathryn’s horror!

Image of Tegan with her medals from the Swimming WA State Championships earlier this year

For the uninitiated, vaulting is a combination of dance and gymnastic on horseback. Using a teammate for guidance and support, Tegan performed routines to music while on a moving horse. A tricky, even impossible prospect for even the most talented of gymnasts, Tegan showed grace and fearlessness as she would glide around the arena on horseback.

Not one to ever give anything a half-hearted attempt, Tegan quickly excelled at vaulting and has a swag of awards and trophies to show for her efforts and won the State Championships two years running.

However, her vaulting career came to a grinding halt when during one fateful race at an inter-school swimming carnival, a coach noticed a St Norbert’s swimmer with raging potential. A quick chat with Tegan and Kathryn, and the rest is history.

Tegan has now swum competitively since the beginning of 2018, and has competed in a range of competitions including the UWA West Coast Short Course Championships, the State Age Championships and the State open championships. She has eight gold medals, six silver and six bronze medals. A staggering amount of achievement in such a small timeframe, including the 4 records she’s broken in the S11 class. This class is for swimmers like Tegan, who have no sight.

This achievement must come at a cost, and for school-aged Tegan it’s the hours required that can be hard to manage. “While I love swimming, I train 5 days a week, before and after school. I definitely have days where I say, ‘I don’t want to do this’!”

Tegan does find time to kick-back while not at school or training, and her sweet-tooth has led her to baking. “I love cooking! At school in cooking class we’ve been focusing on café-style foods and I enjoy making the cakes and sweets. My favourite is lamington cake!” she grins.

“It’s great to be able to cook pretty much independently, it’s an outlet to express myself, and I get to eat the end result so it isn’t too bad!”

This independence has been important to her and her Mum Kathryn since she was born. “From day one when we found out about Tegan’s sight I wanted her to be independent. I never wanted her to be stuck at home.”

Finding VisAbility, known then as the Association for the Blind, was a huge relief for Kathryn and her family. The services and expertise that was offered to the new mum was a comfort and guide in those early days. Tegan has grown up being involved with VisAbility, from playgroup with her Mum to excursions and adventures with friends. She knows the place like the back of her hand.

Young Tegan in 2010 as a client at the Association for the Blind. She wears a white shirt and holds a cane.

“Oh, VisAbility has been great. They’ve given us (Mum and I) so much support.” Tegan smiles. “I remember going on holiday camps and being involved in programs where I got to raft, abseil and make friends with others going through similar experiences.”

Independence is a key focus at VisAbility, encouraging people with disability to feel empowered and lead the lives they want to. For Tegan,

“Independence means I don’t hold Mum’s hand. I live my own life. I look forward to the days when I’m older and I can continue to be more and more independent.”

In Kathryn’s mind, giving her daughter every opportunity to be independent has been so important. “I remember when Tegan was young, we bought a water cooler so that she was able to do something as simple as get a drink of water on her own. I didn’t want her to feel like she had to depend on me for the simplest things.”

Image of Tegan in 2008, playing with toys in the Association for the Blind children centre

“One piece of advice I would give to new parents of children with a disability is, ‘don’t wrap them up in cotton wool. Let them enjoy life, climb trees and have fun.’ And also make sure you give them every opportunity you possibly can.”

Tegan is thankful for her parents’ encouragement and support. Times have been tough, particularly at primary school and she does occasionally face comments from the public while being out and about. “I have had people come up and say, ‘do you want to feel my face?’ This is awful, I get confused and uncomfortable.” Tegan sighs. “I don’t focus on what I can’t do. We blind people, we are just like anyone else! I just can’t see!”

With her fighting and determined spirit, Tegan’s future is bright. She is busily preparing for the State Age and Open competition in Adelaide in April, and one day has dreams of representing Australia at the Paralympics. In her immediate future though, she aims to head to University once she finishes school and become a psychiatrist.

And for her next dare-devil adventure, does she have anything in mind? “Well I’ve actually been thinking about going skydiving. It would be very cool. I’ve been jet boating before, and that was fun. So wouldn’t this be 100 times better?” she grins.

To find out more about the Children & Youth services VisAbility offers, please visit our webpage below or call us on 1800 846 477 and speak to our friendly team.