CAROL Brill, who suffers from a rare eyesight and hearing-affecting genetic disorder, Usher syndrome, is set to be the first Irish woman to compete in the Italian Blind Golf Open in Milan this coming October.
Dundrum’s Brill is an active campaigner on issues surrounding Usher syndrome, having recently spoken to the Oireachtas about the debilitating genetic problem.
Usher syndrome causes progressive damage to both eyesight and hearing. The rare condition is passed through recessive genes, and affects approximately one in 20,000 people.
Astonishingly, Brill first picked up a golf club early in 2015. Her visual problems kicked in at the age of ten, but have slowly worsened ever since, leaving just a 3% visual window – through which she has perfect vision – directly in front of her.
Somewhat surprisingly, golf is well-adapted to blindness, in that changes to the practical rules are relatively insignificant.
Besides a few minor tweaks, the only rule changes are based around the participants reliance on a well-established guide for information on the distance and direction of the hole, as well as assistance in lining up shots.
While simple in theory, though, the game is clearly a massive challenge in practise. Brill also sees it as “a chance to get out of my own head.
“I can see the golf ball, but that’s it, I don’t see anything else around the golf ball”, Brill explains, “but I don’t feel the limitations of my condition. I just focus on the ball and hit it. I might miss it a few times, but I hit it.
“I’m so busy, even though I’m classified unemployed”, Brill tells GazetteSport “because I’m always campaigning around deaf and blindness. I just want to make life better for people who are losing communication and mobility.
“We see and hear the world, and to lose both of those senses is a massive, massive challenge.
“For the Milan Open, only three classifications can play, B1, B2 and B3. I’m classified as B3. B1 is completely blind, while I’m B3, because I have very limited 20-20 vision,” Brill explains.
“My coach Gary has nicely demonstrated that it’s possible to hit the ball without seeing at all, by putting stickers on his classes. Of course, I worry about the day I really can’t see the ball, but he does it without a problem.
“I had to give up my tennis, so its really encouraging to know I’m not going to lose this. You lose parts of your life altogether. I’ve lost driving, too, for example. A lot of this is about finding ways to make up for those losses.
“I try to be positive all the time. Of course, there are days I get down, otherwise I wouldn’t be human. I just don’t allow myself to stay there, I keep picking myself up.”
Coach Gary Cullen, a former Irish international golfer now working with American Golf, talks passionately of Brill’s progress, after meeting her through a contest on Twitter.
The meeting came about through “complete chance, after professional lessons came up for grabs,” Brill says.
“They’ve been so supportive, letting me use their driving nets when there are no customers, and helping me on the course. Leopardstown Golf Course have been great, too. It’s so encouraging to have people so interested in helping you.”
“Carol’s a very determined woman”, Cullen said. “When she puts her mind to something she just goes and does it. She’s just completed her first 18 holes, which went really well for only four months’ training.
“She had a few blow outs, but it’s seriously different to your everyday golf, and I’m learning while I do it as well.
“We use a lot of numbers, and adjust Carol’s stance to help her measure how hard to hit the ball.”
Cullen’s admiration of Brill is unquestioning, though, and he had little hesitation in agreeing to guide her around the Milan course.
“She’s extremely inspirational; she’s done a huge amount of work on many different things. I think for her it’s a nice bit of head space”, Cullen says.
“She’s a brilliant woman. She doesn’t let the world stop her.”