Para Lions breaking new ground out in Tenerife
England Blind Women international Selina Prieto discusses the warm-weather training camp in Tenerife and the togetherness of the Para programme at the FA
Selina Prieto has represented her country in the Commonwealth Games and can include the Olympic Stadium in London among the venues where she has performed in the past. But the level of support she has received during the Para Lions’ warm-weather training camp this week is unlike anything she has experienced in her career so far.
Prieto had good partial sight as a young child but between the ages of ten and 18 gradually lost her sight to the point where she now only has light perception in her left eye.
Her love of running endured and she went on to represent England at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and competed for Great Britain at the London Anniversary Games two years later.
Unfortunately Prieto suffered a fractured knee in 2017 and then required further surgery on another knee injury in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic caused much of the disability sporting calendar to halt for several years.
Her sporting career then took a surprising turn in September 2022 when, at the age of 34, she discovered an England Blind Women football team had been created and she decided to try out for her local club West Bromwich Albion.
A whirlwind 2023 then saw her West Bromwich Albion debut followed swiftly by an England call-up before the Blind Women’s team competed in their first major tournament, the inaugural IBSA World Games in Birmingham.
Now, the team and Prieto are looking to continue their growth this week as part of the England Para Lions’ warm-weather training camp in Tenerife.
Around 40 members of the Blind Men, Cerebral Palsy, Deaf Men, Deaf Women, Partially Sighted and Blind Women teams – as well as more than 20 members of staff – flew out to the Canary Islands on Sunday before four days of double sessions on the island.
Prieto said: “Honestly, I've been in sport a very long time and I've never been abroad like this. I've seen people over the years go on warm weather training and I've always been envious, so it is a real privilege to have this chance now and I really appreciate the opportunity the FA has given us.
“It's really nice to be in this situation where you're away from home and you don't have to worry about work or any of the daily things that go on. It is nice just to be able to focus on training and doing it at a high level.
“This is what we all want to do. We want to represent our country and the set up has been very professional.
“It is a great environment and it has been lovely to mix with the other teams as well as I have never had the opportunity to do that before.”
The morning sessions in Tenerife have been team and impairment specific, with Prieto explaining how she has already improved considerably in the opening days.
The afternoon then sees the teams join together for the fitness session before the Blind Women players branch off to do some more impairment-specific training.
Prieto said the camp has been ‘even more challenging than I expected but not in a bad way’ and she has loved the sessions so far.
Prieto, whose England Blind Women team are starting to prepare for the World Grand Prix in Argentina later this year, said: “There are only three of us from our team out in Tenerife so having that intense support, guidance and coaching has been great.
“Being able to meet and mix with the other teams has created the feeling that we are like one big team, even though we're from different Para squads.
“It's really nice to see that connection and support because sometimes in sport you can feel isolated in what you are doing or you might be working together but only as part of a smaller squad.
“It is also good to see how far I can push my body physically. I think if I was doing this work back in England, I don’t think that would necessarily have happened to the same extent.
“Everyone has been really positive so far and is showing a great attitude.”
'Everyone is all together'