From sparring to skating: Registered blind taekwondo black belt becomes ice dance champion

  • By ITV Wales journalist Katie Fenton

A woman from Flintshire who is registered as severely sight impaired is hoping to inspire others with a disability after becoming a black belt in taekwondo - and now an ice skating champion.

30-year-old Nikki Sibeon, from Greenfield, noticed a change in her eyesight while she was taking her driving test.

Her sight rapidly deteriorated and following several tests she was diagnosed with best macular degeneration, which blurs her central vision.

Nikki said she initially struggled to come to terms with losing her sight.

"The way I describe it to people - when I'm on a particularly bad day - is like when you're wearing glasses and the glasses steam up, that's essentially what I can see," she explained.

"You go through this sense of loss, and the grieving process for something you should have and yet it's kind of been taken away from you."

In need of a confidence boost, Nikki tried taekwondo and has since earned one of the highest possible ranks in the martial art.

Nikki trains and spars with sighted people.

She has also sparred with sighted people just by hearing where they are.

"I think it was exactly a year to the day of my diagnosis that I started taekwondo. I think that was my way of fighting back to say that basically you can't dictate to me what I can and can't do.

"That gave me the 'I can do this attitude'. It gave me the actual belief that, yes I have a disability, and there are some things that I have to adapt, but I don't have to stop them, I just have to adapt the way I do them."

Nikki is currently training for the World Inclusive Championships.

Having mastered one sport, Nikki was motivated to take on another, and decided to try ice skating - despite having only tried it once before.

She has since won inclusive championship titles across the UK.

"It gives me a sense of being free," she said.

"When I'm on the ice, I'm able to do or learn skills that everybody else can."

Nikki travels long distances to train after her local ice rink closed during the pandemic.

In 2020, Nikki's local ice rink in Deeside closed to become a field hospital and later a mass vaccination centre. 

She began travelling long distances by bus and train to ice rinks in Cheshire and Shropshire.

That determination has earned Nikki recognition as a finalist in the Woman in Sport category of this year's Chwarae Teg Womenspire Awards.

The awards celebrate inspirational women from across Wales, highlighting personal achievements and outstanding contributions, with the winners due to be announced on Thursday.

Nikki's coach said she inspires on and off the ice.

Nikki's coach, Ryan Southan, described how she is inspiring on and off the ice.

"She kind of takes life and embraces it," he said.

"She's just started college as well and she's getting an education, so it's not so much about her ability as a skater, it's about the determination she has in everything she does."

Nikki is currently training for the World Inclusive Championships - but her passion for the sport goes beyond medals and accolades.

"If there's somebody out there going 'oh I can't do this because I'm registered blind or I have any form of sight impairment, I want to be that person that they go 'well Nikki can do it, I can do it'," she explained.

"It doesn't define me, it doesn't define what I can do, what I can't do, the only person who can tell me that I can and can't do something is myself."