(Daily Mail By RACHEL RICKARD STRAUS) – With her incredible jumps and flips on the gymnastics beam and brave maneuvers on the parallel bars, 13-year-old Lola Walters has been taking America by storm.
But every time she reaches for the beam she is taking a leap of faith – because she can hardly see it.
Lola, from California, is legally blind, suffering from a condition called Nystagmus, which means her eyes move constantly, causing her to see double.
It means she has no depth perception whatsoever and when she’s running up to the bar she cannot see it until she’s just five feet away.
But Lola wowed crowds at the American Gymnastics Academy Long Beach Open this month where she competed alongside other young gymnasts with perfect vision.
Even though judges knew nothing of her condition they were amazed by her abilities.
‘Most people I compete with don’t know I am any different to them,’ says Lola, ‘and as far as I’m concerned it can stay that way. If they don’t know, they don’t need to score me differently.’
Lola uses her touch to make up for her inability to tell exactly where to jump or stretch to make contact. If she sees double she grounds herself with how her surroundings feel through her hands and feet.
‘The floor work isn’t any different for me,’ she says. ‘But with the beam – it’s four inches wide – so that’s hard enough for anyone to walk on, let alone jump and flip on, so when I start to see two beams instead of just the one that’s really there I have to steady myself on my feet and really focus.’
The bar poses other challenges, but ones that Lola has learned to accommodate. ‘I’m pretty used to it, so I know where it is and how far I have to jump to get there,’ she says.
Even so, Lola falls more than most in training and her accidents are more serious.
Her mother, Beth, adopted Lola when she was two years old from an orphanage in Bulgaria.
She fell in love with Lola when she accidentally discovered her photo on the orphanage’s website.
‘I was divorced, 32 years-old, and although I’d always had an interest in international adoption I was only casually researching at the time,’ says the 43-year-old.
‘Then I saw Lola and I knew she was meant to be my daughter. It must have been divine intervention. I feel like I had no control over it happening.’
When Lola finally reached U.S., doctors discovered Lola’s visual impairment.
‘Her vision is very complicated,’ says Beth.
‘I don’t like to use the term ‘legally blind’ although she is considered legally blind, as I think that is deceptive.
‘She can see. It’s just that what is in front of her constantly moves and she can not judge distances or focus.’
That did not stop Beth from encouraging Lola to practice gymnastics when she turned three.
Beth says Lola used to enjoy swinging on the bars in playground and introduced her to gymnastics.
Now gymnastics has become Lola’s passion and she plans to be a gymnastics coach when she’s older.
Beth admits that although Lola is fearless, she holds her breath whenever Lola attempts a back tuck off the beam.
‘All the girls practicing gymnastics are taking risks, but for Lola she will fall more and harder when she is learning a new skill,’ she says.
‘The back tuck, even for someone with perfect vision, is risky as the head comes so close to the beam. But Lola is careful, she doesn’t want an injury.
‘She wouldn’t be able to continue with gymnastics if she got injured.’
For the moment, Lola is looking forward to competing in her next tournament.