Pandemic restrictions have created extra challenges for the visually-impaired Paralympic sprint champion and Dancing On Ice star
By the time coronavirus is finally banished from our lives, we will all have a story to tell about how the various degrees of lockdown affected each and every one of us in a multitude of different ways.
Libby Clegg turned 30 a fortnight after the pubs went dark. Having recently sweltered in the spotlight during her stint on ITV’s Dancing On Ice, the double Paralympic sprint gold medallist had intended to chill out and celebrate without undue fanfare.
Her fiancé Dan, sneakily, had other ideas. A suitably raucous bash had secretly been arranged. Regrettably, it had to be yanked from the diary faster than you can say ‘Schofe and Holly’.
“And he’d already invited loads of the cast from Dancing On Ice,” Clegg giggles. “Michael Barrymore nearly let it slip to me on the last night of the show that he was coming to my party.
“That could have been the big party of the year. But now I’m going to try and do my birthday party on the day before my 31st.”
Let’s hope the Scot is able to Strike It Lucky with the festivities second time around. By next March, she hopes to be in the thick of preparations for her fourth Paralympics without fear that Tokyo’s Games might be cancelled, rather than postponed.
As a visually-impaired athlete, the current restrictions present a perplexing challenge for Loughborough-based Clegg and her coach Joe McDonnell. Social distancing must be maintained with up close contact limited. How, she queries, to adapt a rapid regime which is normally undertaken with a guide runner adjoined at her side?
“It’s going to be difficult,” she says. “I was going on to the 4G pitch during the lockdown and Joe was meeting me there.
“Obviously, he was not allowed to technically coach me. But he was letting me know if I was running near the fence. It’s not ideal but that’s all I was able to do. I obviously can’t run on a road or a normal field because there’s divots and it’s quite dangerous when you can’t see anything. And if I trip and twist my ankles, that’s really not very good.”
With her degenerative eye condition – Stargardt’s Dystrophy – largely limiting her sight, the obstacles erected by the ‘new normal’ are not limited to the track.
“A lot of blind people are quite tactile as well,” she underlines. “So, if I go to the supermarket, for example, I pick things up and feel it. Like, pasta, rice, whatever. You feel it, right? Well, you can’t really do that.”
Pandemic aside, daily life is infinitely more complex than four years ago when she seized gold in both the T11 100m and 200m in Rio. Clegg’s son, Edward, has now turned one and is already demonstrating a turn of speed on all fours that suggests the apple has not fallen too far from the tree.
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. . ❤️ I just wanted to say a big thank you for all the lovely birthday messages! With everything that’s going on right now, it’s been a strange one but this little guy keeps me smiling through it all! ❤️ . #libbyclegg #paralympian #stargardts #multitaskingmama #letsstaypositive #weareallinthistogether
The gambit of learning to skate on national television during what passed for maternity leave was accepted with a nod to their future. To open doors and explore pathways.
Finishing third on Dancing on Ice, as former EastEnders star Joe Swash salchowed his way to victory, should also have afforded her the kind of valedictory tour that sticks a few quid in the bank to underwrite any transition. Covid-19, frustratingly, slammed shut the window to profitably capitalise.
“I’ve lost a bit of work,” she rues. “But it’s just one of those things, isn’t it? It’s been quite nice having time to sort of have a think about what I’d like to do and learning a bit more about me.”
A radio gig appeals, post-sprinting. Anything that gets her out of the house a little more than of late.
“I definitely know I love my little boy to pieces,” she laughs. “But I do not want to be a full-time mum. It’s so exhausting.”
Parents up and down the land nod knowingly in sympathy. Regardless, Clegg will continue diversionary chats with her new-found coterie of celebrity chums. Schofield and Willoughby and the pirouetting pair of Torvill and Dean can expect invites to parties galore.
“Phil and Holly were lovely,” she enthuses. “Chris and Jayne were fantastic. They were all normal people, which was a bit of a surprise.”
However, shimmying in sequins must now bow to gallops in lycra. 14 months, presumably, remain until the defence of her crowns. With the 2020 schedule decimated, it will feel a long, slow build.
“I was really hoping that it would continue as normal this year because after Dancing On Ice, I was actually in really good shape,” she maintains.
“But, it’s another year. And everybody’s in the same boat and we’re all stuck in that situation, aren’t we?”
» A version of this interview appeared in The Mail on Sunday