Visual impairment is not a life impairment: a leading French Athlete describes his route to the 2012 Paralympics - Essilor See Change


Olivier Donval is a physiotherapist and visually impaired athlete. Together with his co-rider John Saccomandi, he will ride for France in the tandem cycle race in early September. Here Olivier shares information about his training and about how Essilor’s support has helped him train better.

“I have very limited field of vision caused by retinitis pigmentosa. My eyesight is continually deteriorating, I’m highly sensitive to light and suffer from night blindness. Essilor equipped me with 3 different pairs of glasses which all aim to protect my sight and improve visual comfort:

  • Two pairs of yellow and orange tinted lenses for daily wear to improve light contrast and protect my view from bright light particularly inside
  • Orange tinted polarized sports lenses which totally surround my eyes for additional protection in very bright conditions
  • Polarised photochromic lenses that help to reduce glare from bright lights and optimise my vision in transitions from bright to dark conditions.

It’s rare in France to talk to specialists who understand the difficulties of low vision so the help of Anne-Catherine Scherlen and the Essilor’s R&D Low Vision team was really appreciated.

“It’s rare in France to talk to specialists who understand the difficulties of low vision”

For any cyclist, especially with vision difficulties, preparation is key. Before every race we try to cycle the route to understand the physical challenges and discuss tactics. The Paralympic cycling course is on part of the Brands Hatch motor racing circuit and local roads. We cycled it in June to help plan our rhythm and attack. It’s a spectacular circuit, with several short, steep hills that will play to our strengths and has great facilities for spectators.

In a typical year we compete in around 30 races internationally. We try and train together 10 hours a week. The tandem is equipped with sensors that records data on cardiac patterns, speed, rhythm and performance. We upload this data to a site to plan with our trainer subsequent training sessions. Getting together often can be difficult. John can train solo, but I can’t. I also have a small network of cyclists that I’ve equipped with a tandem that can accompany me when John and I can’t cycle together. I clock up around 10,000 km a year.