Kayci makes a splash in the pool and in the saddle

14 March 2018

BAIRNSDALE'S Kayci Westwood is a sports star that lets nothing stand in her way.

Kayci, 26, who has low vision, has learned to travel to Melbourne on her own with support from Vision Australia, using a long white cane to help her to navigate safely.

She has nystagmus, a condition that causes rapid involuntary movements in her eyes, and is triggered by the abnormal function of the part of her brain that controls eye movement.

Kayci has worked extensively with Vision Australia orientation and mobility specialist Nicola Misso to use public transport to get to physiotherapist appointments in Melbourne to treat a shoulder injury.

She's recently graduated to the long white cane from the smaller, narrower "ID cane" she has used since the age of 13.

The ID cane alerts pedestrians that Kayci has a vision issue. The long white cane is a better navigation tool but Kayci needed to learn new techniques to use it well.

"I spoke to Nicola a while ago and she said, ‘Why don't we give the white cane another whirl?', because before I wasn't ready for it," Kayci says.

"I've learned how to get to my physio in Melbourne using the train and trams. It still gets a bit overwhelming because it doesn't get too busy here outside our peak seasons.

"I just take my time and suss things out. I'm still getting used to the fact that the long cane scans for me rather than me having to look down, like we all do when we're learning. Nicola says I'm getting much better."

Kayci recently raced at the Victorian state swimming championships in open classes and in open and mixed classification events at the Gippsland championships last weekend.

At the state championships, held at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre, she smashed her personal best in the 200-metre freestyle and narrowly beat her best time in the 100-metre event.

At the Gippsland championships, held in Sale over the long weekend, Kayci contested 10 events, setting personal bests in the 50m mixed classification freestyle, the 50m 17-and-over butterfly and the 50m mixed classification breaststroke.

Kayci's mother Alison Westwood first got her into the sport. "Mum was a swimming instructor and, like most parents of kids with a disability, she tried not to put up brick walls for me, so I learned how to swim when I was little," she says.

"I was in and out of swimming a bit but my high school PE teacher saw the potential in me and that brought me to the East Gippsland Water Dragons. I'm now in my seventh season with them."

Kayci swims all four major strokes. Breaststroke, her favourite, has proved hard on her knees and she has adopted the butterfly.
"For me, swimming is more for fitness. It's just to get out and show people that kids with disabilities can do things," she says.

Apart from swimming, Kayci adores horses and has competed in dressage at open events and through Riding for the Disabled for seven years.

Her mount is Raffa, an 11-year-old thoroughbred ex-racehorse.

"I do it (dressage) when I can. It's a bit hard with the swimming season at the moment and with me being injured," she says.

"We did the state and national championships for the first time last year.

"In states, he got me off on my first dressage test. I wasn't too impressed because I landed in a very wet sand arena in front of one of my coaches. We were eliminated in our first test, but we bounced back and we got a third in our second test at states."

Preparation for dressage requires precision on the course and in grooming and presentation. It's a challenge for Kayci, but she's up to the task.

"It's very difficult. I can't plait my horse because of my eyes. I can't handle it, so normally my lovely mum has the pleasure of plaiting my horse for me and I mainly deal with the other stuff – I clean my bridle and my saddle, wash him and get all the training I can into him," she says.

Kayci began riding at six on her grandfather's Shetland pony, suffering a fall on her first ride - "as everyone does", she laughs.
"It's my freedom. I get on a horse and I'm in my own little world. I don't worry about my vision. I just do what I've been trained to do, which is ride the horse," Kayci says.

Kayci also is part owner of a racehorse, King Joy. She has strapped for many of his races through country Victoria, a record that includes four wins and a second.

Kayci Westwood on her mount Raffa