A DOWNHILL mountain biker who travels Europe to events says his ultimate goal is to turn professional - despite being blind.

Xavier Hopkins, 20, from Reading, has just 10 per cent vision on a good day but is fearless at the sport which he says has "transformed" his life and given him a "superpower".

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He took up mountain biking after having trouble working or studying at college due to his poor eyesight.

He suffers from albinism that also causes his vision to be impaired, making seeing obstacles while speeding down a woodland trail even harder.

In terms of blind sport, Xavier is in the 10 per cent vision category, but he says sometimes his visibility is even less than that - especially on bright days.

His albinism causes too much light to enter his eyes, leaving far away objects appearing blurred and a lot of sunlight can even temporarily blind him.

Xavier also suffers from nystagmus, which is an involuntary and uncontrollable shaking of the eye that makes it difficult to focus on certain objects.

He started getting into mountain biking after going with some school friends to try it out around three years ago - and has been hooked ever since.

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Now he has around 11 companies sponsoring him and gets to travel to Europe for biking events and shoot videos.

Describing how he copes with going at such fast speeds with so many jumps and obstacles in his way, Xavier joked: "It certainly makes it interesting."

He added: "My eyesight is very much affected by light and how tired I am.

"If there is a lot of sunlight it makes it very hard to see because it can temporarily blind me.

"Everything over about two metres can get blurry.

"The further objects get away from me the more they move and sometimes I see double.

"But my eyesight has been the same since I was born so I am used to it and have learnt to adapt.

"I try to ride when it is overcast and wear very dark tint goggles.

"I walk any new track before riding it to scope it out so I know where I'm going and kind of know it from memory as much as possible before going Hell for leather."

Reading Chronicle:

After leaving college, Xavier tried to work in office jobs, including for Thames Water and Samsung, but found it difficult to read text on a computer due to his condition.

He said he spent around a year not knowing what to do next, before mountain biking changed his life. Xavier added: "Being a blind mountain biker might seem like a stupid hobby, but it's helped me accept who I am and given me something to focus on and something that feels like my thing.

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"I spent about a year just down in the dumps and not really doing anything and wasting time, so this gives me something to work towards and has really transformed my life.

"Growing up I was told I couldn't do this, or I couldn't do that, but this is something I can do and it's opened up a whole new world. It's almost like having a super power."

Despite his condition and the dangerous nature of downhill mountain biking, Xavier has only suffered a broken collar bone and a neck muscle injury during his busy career.

But while at school he suffered a series of falls and had to walk with a stick - now Xavier speeds down undulating hills and flies through the air over huge woodland jumps.

He said: "At secondary school I was made to use a cane because of some really bad falls, that was pretty terrible and at that age kids poke fun at anything.

"It didn't get to me too badly, it's like putting a label on me, but I had a good group of friends around me so I was able to deal with it.

"When I went to college it was really bad in terms of accessing the work and getting support and it became pretty impossible. Mountain biking has become a great outlet."

Talking about his first experience of mountain biking, Xavier said: "I had done some basic riding before, as I knew I wasn't going to be able to drive and buses in my area weren't very regular, so I had to cycle everywhere.

"But when I started mountain biking I really enjoyed it and it just went from there. Hopefully it will keep growing and growing."

Now Xavier hopes to get more sponsorship and continue to travel the world - once the pandemic restrictions have been relaxed.

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He added: "I have got to know quite a lot of [mountain biking] professionals at different events who build the biggest jumps possible and challenge themselves to ride the course.

"It's a really great atmosphere, so that's my ultimate goal and I'd like to try and get into that side of the sport."

"I want to push myself and do the best I can and see how far a blind athlete can go in mountain biking. But I want to prove that I'm not disabled and that I'm just like everyone else."