A blind Tralee woman experienced the joy of driving a car for only the third in her life this week.
Mairead O’Mahony, 39, has been blind all her life.
In her younger years, she convinced her brother to allow her to drive a Jeep around fields on the family farm, but she has only ever driven a road car twice.
On Tuesday last week she participated in a special event organised by Vision Sports Ireland at Mondello Park.
Born out of the National Council for the Blind’s strategy, ‘Changing Perceptions 2021-2023’ Vision Sports Ireland makes the dreams and aspirations of its members a reality.
The track day, called Zero Limits, was organised in collaboration with Mayo-based Sara McFadden, Ireland’s only visually impaired rally co-driver, who is a Sports Development Officer with Vision Sports Ireland.
The morning sessions allow visually impaired drivers, with the help of an instructor, to drive road cars on the County Kildare track.
For many of the younger participants, it is their first time ever driving a car.
Those who fully or partially lost their sight later in life were able to regain a previously lost freedom on what is a very emotional day for participants and their families.
Others, like Mairead, had never driven an ordinary road car until Zero Limits made it a reality.
This was her second time participating in Zero Limits, after entering the inaugural event in July 2021.
Instructors used cars with dual-controls, similar to those used by driving schools and were on hand to take control should things start to go wrong.
“It was amazing,” she said. “The instructor was very good. He described the road using a clock system so he was telling me things like three o’clock left and six o’clock right so I was able to get a good feel for it. I was able to push the accelerator and let it rip on the long straights.”
Mairead is a fan of technology and cannot wait for the day that autonomous cars become mainstream.
“All my life I was told I couldn’t do this or I couldn’t do that. I have a vision where something like Google Drive will let me programme the car and let me go wherever I want to go,” she added.
As an extra treat, rally drivers were invited to attend the afternoon session. They offered high-speed laps to the participants. It is their first time ever experiencing the thrill of a rally car.
Kerry Motor Club members, father and son duo Jason and Mossie Costello, were two of many rally drivers who gave their time and their rally car freely for the enjoyment of the participants.
They took turns driving their rally-prepared Ford Escort on the County Kildare track.
Although Mairead was not partnered with one of the Tarbert-based drivers she was offered a passenger seat with another rally driver instead.
“It was such an adrenaline rush,” she added, ”I was shouting go faster, go faster, go harder, it was a real feeling of liberation.”
The 2022 event proved to be a huge success as 80 blind and vision impaired participants had the opportunity to get behind the wheel of dual-controlled road cars and became rally co-drivers alongside some of Ireland’s finest rally drivers.
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