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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Seeing without sight : an exploration of the athlete -- guide partnership in high-performance parasport Mannella, Staci


Individuals who are blind or visually impaired compete in Paralympic sports with the help of their sighted guides. The guide participates alongside the athlete, and the pair seek to achieve optimal performance together. The partnership transforms many sports such as athletics, cycling, skiing, and triathlon, which are typically understood to be individual, into team sports dependent on communication and rapport. The purpose of this study was to explore how the athlete – guide partnership is experienced in high-performance parasport. More specifically, the study sought to identify how interdependence is experienced within these partnerships and how the athlete – guide partnership challenges and/or reproduces normative assumptions of bodies, abilities, and sport. The study was informed by a critical interpretivist paradigm and included 12 semi-structured interviews with both the athletes and the guides from six high-performance athlete – guide pairs. The data were analyzed through a reflexive thematic analysis and four themes were constructed: “You Live as a Team, You Die as a Team” captured the unique benefits and challenges of working as a team in the athlete – guide partnership. The theme Better Together was guided by Poczwardowski et al.’s (2019) 5C’s model of interdependence and represents how athletes and guides uniquely experienced compatibility, closeness, commitment, complementarity, and coorientation. The next theme, Building Bridges: Connecting and Embracing Differences illustrates how the athlete – guide partnership can be used as a tool to challenge normative assumptions of dis/abilities, ab/normalities, and sport. Finally, The Uphill Battle describes how the partnership reproduces negative understandings of disability and sport. The study provides novel insights into how these partnerships are experienced and the ways in which interdependent relationships shape experiences and understandings of disability in the context of high-performance sport. Recommendations for sport psychologists and other sport professionals who support these partnerships are provided.

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