Junior doctor Sarah Leiter balances life in the NHS with playing for Great Britain goalball squad
By Peter White
Having gone from goalball rookie to a potential Paralympian in the space of less than eight years, Cambridge’s Sarah Leiter insists balancing the challenging demands of being an elite athlete have been well worth it.
The 29-year-old had always been an active child but having struggled to engage in a mainstream sport due to her visual impairment, was inspired to try a disabled sport after watching the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Her attempts to join a local blind football team came up short due to the team’s lack of players, but having been advised to give goalball a go, Leiter instantly fell in love with a game she had previously never even heard of.
Now an established GB star, she is determined to help grow the game across the country, as she waits to find out whether the team have qualified for the next Games, which will now be held from August 24 to September 5 in 2021.
“It’s been an incredibly busy year,” she said, speaking at a SportsAid workshop at Newmarket Racecourse before the coronavirus outbreak.
“We’ve had Paralympic qualifiers in the US, we’ve had the European Championships in Germany – now we’re just waiting to find out whether we’re going to Tokyo or not which is very exciting.
“I’d only been playing goalball for about six months when I went to a talent ID day, and within three weeks I was playing for England’s development team in Poland still not 100 per cent sure about the rules!
“But I’m a very determined and competitive person. Once I knew there was a possibility of representing GB, I was focused on achieving that and although it took me a while to really get to the top of the sport, I’ve been hooked on every aspect of it from the start.
“I’m driven to help spread the word now. I do a lot of coaching for my local club in Cambridge and if anything, there are too many players for the facilities we can provide, which is really positive to see.”
Despite enjoying huge success in her journey up the goalball ladder, Leiter has been tasked with balancing the ever-increasing demands of her sporting career with her hectic schedule away from the court.
A junior doctor at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, Leiter admits her focus on the two passions in her life have forced her to make a number of sacrifices away from sport, but with the unequivocal support of her family and friends is determined to make the most of her potential.
She said: “I work 38 hours a week, and even though that is part-time I have to make sure I negotiate my shifts well in advance so I can utilise my time as best as possible.
“You have to be super organised and be willing to cut down on other bits of your life.
“Everyone around me is a massive help – whether that’s my parents not getting upset that I’ve used up all my annual leave to go and compete abroad, or my housemate leaving the washing machine free after training.
“It’s hard but it’s also been really enjoyable, and I can’t wait to continue on this pathway and see how far I can go, and how far the sport can go as well.”
SportsAid supports the most promising young British athletes by providing them with a financial award, recognition and personal development opportunities during the critical early stages of their careers. The athlete and parent workshop hosted at Newmarket Racecourse was supported by funds raised by the RBC Ride for the Kids.
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More by this authorMark Taylor