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Race Across the World – RNIB’s Trish Sail on her trip of a lifetime

Tricia and her friend Cathie pose with their backpacks by the waterfront in Vancouver, Canada

Tricia and Cathie in Vancouver, bags packed and ready for their adventure

50 per cent reality game show and 50 per cent exotic travel series, the return of Race Across the World to BBC1 screens this spring has been inspiring a sense of wanderlust in many viewers. And one of the contestants attempting to hotfoot it thousands of miles across Canada is RNIB’s staff member Trish Sail. Trish works as a Community Connections Co-ordinator in the South West of England. She is no stranger to adventure and lives with sight loss.

What is Race Across The World?

Trish teamed up with her childhood friend Cathie to take part in the show. They are among five couples from different walks of life all competing against each other to be the first to travel the 16,000 kilometre distance from a city park in Vancouver to the Eastern outpost of St John’s, Newfoundland.

Each team has a strict budget, can’t use mobiles phones or the internet and must rely on the generosity of strangers they meet along the way. The winning team gets a £20,000 cash prize. But for Trish, it was the attraction of a potentially life-changing experience that drew her into the programme.

This is the third season of Race Across the World and having watched the first two avidly, Trish said she wanted to apply as soon as she heard applications were open. She was keen to prove to herself that she could complete such an epic challenge and that she didn’t have to be defined by her sight loss and to show to others that anything is possible. She said taking part in the show had also helped her to rebuild her confidence and led to her leaving her old job and applying for a role with RNIB last autumn.

"Like looking through a dark cloud with spots on it"

Trish has uveitis, an eye condition affecting the inside of the eye originating in a part of the eye called the uvea. The swelling in the uvea as well as affecting vision, can also result in pain and sensitivity to bright lights. Trish describes her own vision as “like looking through a dark cloud with spots on it.” Since her sight worsened, she has had to stop driving, as shown in episode two of the programme when the pair rented a car and Trish had to rely on Cathie to do all the driving through Canadian wilderness.

Trish praises the way the producers of the programme have represented aspects of her sight loss “in a sympathetic way but without making a massive deal about it.” Other people didn’t make a big deal about it either. “The people that I came across on the race were all very understanding and asked how they can assist me rather than trying to tell me what I could or couldn’t do,” she said.

“It’s the strangest feeling watching yourself on TV, it seems so unreal. Obviously, we were out there for weeks and the producers can only show so much on TV so there were some things which happened which viewers didn’t see but which were favourite memories of mine. On the ferry journey we took on leg one, we had a blast, we met a lady also called Trish who showed us around when we got onto the mainland. We got to see some seals and feed them with offcuts from the fishermen and Cathie slapped my bum with a frozen fish…actually it’s probably for the best some things didn’t make the final edit.”

Trish’s tips for travellers with sight loss

Being severely sight impaired did pose certain challenges as she travelled, Trish accepts. She said: “I did take my cane along, but I didn't use it much apart from when we were in big, built-up places with lots of people. Everywhere we went was unfamiliar so you could feel quite vulnerable but of course I had Cathie with me and because we’ve known each other for 30 years I trust her completely. She was my eyes throughout the trip.”

Before setting off on the once- in-a -lifetime journey, Trish got lots of helpful tips and advice from RNIB although many of the technology-based travel assistance apps were not an option. The rules of the contest prevented Trish from taking a mobile phone or any other internet-enabled device in her rucksack. But she did take a digital camera with her. This enabled Trish to take photos of important information as well as the scenery and then zoom in to view and read the detail.

Trish said she was fortunate to be able to travel with someone she trusted completely. Travelling solo can also be a rewarding experience and she would encourage anyone to have their own adventure. However, she stresses it is important to plan your journey to avoid some of the stress shown on the programme and to always make sure you let someone know your plans so that if any problems do arise you have someone to turn to for support. One thing she says she always packs is paper and pens, “because you never know when you might need them.”

  • If you have a question about independent travel or anything else about living with sight loss you can contact RNIB on 0303 123 9999, by email [email protected] or say: “Alexa, call RNIB Helpline” to an Alexa-enabled device.
  • If you want to see how Trish and Cathie get on tune in to Race Across The World on Wednesday evenings at 9pm on BBC1, you can catch up on earlier episodes via BBC iPlayer.