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Visually impaired sprinter wins OFSAA after first race in years

St. Theresa's student Dalaynie Conn, who has no peripheral vision, is very humble about winning her first provincial track race even though she hadn’t run competitively for about four years

After winning the 100-metre sprint at the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Association’s final meet last year, Dalaynie Conn can’t remember her time from her final race.

“My best time is 15.12 seconds,” says Conn.

Considering the record for the 100-metre for girls in her age group was set in 1981 at 11.76 seconds, this is quite a feat.

For Conn, this time is something she’s working to continue to surpass with the help of her coaches and her resource learning teacher.

Conn has no peripheral vision. She was born with retinitis pigmentosa.

“I have no night vision, my periphery view is about 10 degrees [a sighted person has 180 degrees of peripheral vision],” explains Conn.

As a runner, she considers her vision loss as something that can help her focus.

“Unlike runners with full vision, I can’t see my competitors. I have to rely on my drive,” explains the 16-year-old St. Theresa’s Catholic High School student.

Running competitively with limited vision is no simple task.

“This was my first time running at OFSAA as a blind runner,” Conn notes, making her victory as the top runner in her division all the more impressive.

To train for the race, Conn ran with a guide who was tethered to her to help her stay in her lane.

“Eventually, I decided I didn’t need a tether,” explains Conn, “I had my vision resource teacher in a high-visibility jacket standing at the end of the lane.”

Conn and her resource teacher share a special relationship. She and Kathy Robinson had been working together at school since Conn first started school.

“I’m definitely close with her,” says Conn. “She worked with me on braille. And, she has lots of knowledge about blind sport.”

Conn’s teacher helped her pursue her passion for running and will be a part of Conn’s life forever.

The young sprinter hopes to go back to OFSAA this year, and is currently training four times a week with Club Track to gain strength and stamina as a runner.

The training is year-round out of Barrie. Runners meet weekly, train, race, and often prepare for scholarships at schools known for their track and field teams.

Until this year, Conn had not run competitively since Grade 6, and went on to win the OFSAA 100 metre last year in Grade 10.

“My training was not too intense. I was kind of going into it blindly,” laughs the track star recognizing the pun.

“I was told I was so fast through elementary school,” says Conn.

Although she had a hip injury in Grade 7, and couldn’t run competitively because of the COVID-19 pandemic for a few years, the natural athlete remained active.

Conn did gymnastics and Kenpo, the Japanese martial art.

“I hadn’t been doing any intense sport for a long period of time. Then as track season came up, my resource teacher knew I loved track and supported me.

“She said ‘you love it and you have the speed.’ So, I went into track at school.” 

The rest is history as they say.

That’s not all that keeps Conn on the go.

“I have a very busy year with track, and I’m also going to be part of our musical production,” explains the thespian and singer.

St Theresa’s has a strong music program, and puts on a production each year.

This year, the school is performing a music review with songs from the 70s called Hooked on a Feeling.

And Conn has been chosen to be a leading vocalist in the production. She knows this will require a big time commitment and looks forward to the challenge.

However, this sprinter and vocalist does not shy away from challenges and enjoys a good debate so much that she plans to pursue a degree in law to advocate for people with vision loss.

“You don’t see a lot of representation around our area of people with vision loss,” says Conn, “It’s not always easy for people to tell that you have vision loss. It takes a lot to work through your day-to-day. It’s a big part of who people are.”

Since Conn and her older sister suffer from the same genetic rare eye disease, she has never felt alone with her vision loss.

“My sister and I have both been very lucky. We go to Sick Kids every year to see if things have gotten better or worse, and our vision has maintained,” says the optimist.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized more and more how limited my vision is.”

Regardless of the challenges that might pose, this performer plans to run and sing her way through keeping her sights set on crossing any finish line before her.

You might even catch her singing a Taylor Swift song along the way, especially Marjorie that she sings to remember her nonna.