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Wales Ethnic Diversity Sports Awards (WEDSA) Inspiring Individual of the Year Rehnaz Khan: If you have a disability you’re seen as a second-class citizen

For many people, going to the gym can be a daunting experience. Going to the gym as a woman can add another layer of discomfort. Doing so as a woman with Retinis Pigmentosa, a degenerative visual disease that slowly breaks down the cells in the retina and eventually causes blindness, can exacerbate that discomfort even further.

But that hasn’t stopped Rehnaz Khan from becoming a Level 3 Qualified Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer at Channel View Leisure Centre in Cardiff. Her trailblazing achievements earned her the Inspiring Individual of the Year award at the inaugural Welsh Ethnic Diversity Sports Awards (WEDSA) in December 2023.

Mrs Khan collecting her Inspiring Individual of the Year award at WEDSA

“It was really special, and it meant a lot. I was so humbled and happy because I was nominated by the organisation I work for, Women Connect First, and I’ve really enjoyed working with women from the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community,” says Mrs Khan.

“There are so many people out there doing so much and not getting recognised for it, so to get this award meant the world to me. I’m just living my life and trying to do the best that I can, and if I inspire someone that will be amazing because I didn’t have someone that looked like me growing up.”

Where it started

Inspirational is a fitting way to describe Mrs Khan’s journey. Along with being registered blind with less than 20% of her sight remaining, she is also a woman from a Pakistani background which added further barriers for her.

More impressively, Mrs Khan’s fitness journey began just 10 years ago. “Culturally coming from a Pakistani background, especially as a girl and having my disability being partially sighted, there were many barriers for me, so I wasn’t a sporty child at all,” she explains.

“My fitness journey only began in my early 30’s when I and another mum friend started running in the couple of spare hours we had after dropping the kids off at nursery together.”

She continues, “At that time, I had just enough sight to run alongside her, so I did that for a few years and eventually did my first spin class in 2014.”

However, upon attending her first spin classes Mrs Khan was met with an environment devoid of warmth and comfort.

“Early on I could tell there was fear because the instructors didn’t know how to treat a visually impaired person in their classes, and sometimes their language wasn’t always welcoming,” she says.

“I felt like I was always a burden because I needed a little bit of extra help. So, I thought that I’m going to do a fitness course just so I know what I’m doing. That way even though I might not be able to see, I would know what the instructors meant, so that was my initial start.”

Pushing through the barriers

Mrs Khan then embarked on a Level 2 Fitness Course at Cardiff and Vale College where her challenges extended beyond pure academics. She says, “I remember when I went for my interview, they were a bit reluctant as they weren’t quite sure if I was going to be able to do the practical elements of the training course.

“But I pushed, and I managed to get my Level two and I enjoyed it so much that I went on and got my Level three. After my Level three I then thought I’d like to do this as a career.

“Initially it was for myself, but also because the same tutors that didn’t know me at the beginning of the course became so supportive as they got to know me as I went through college.

“I was voted the Learner of the Year in the sports category because I achieved more than what they expected, and that gave me the confidence then to try and get into the industry.”

From college into the fitness industry

Upon departing college Mrs Khan faced her greatest challenge – breaking into the fitness industry as a registered blind woman from an ethnic minority background.

There is unquestionably a correlation between images and self-esteem, and given Mrs Khan’s lack of prior images to draw upon, she would need to pioneer her own path.

“It wasn’t smooth sailing at the beginning because I went from a supportive space with people that knew me, to walking into a gym and not getting the best reception,” she says.

“It wasn’t made obvious that it was because of my disability, but that was the underlying issue that people just couldn’t get their heads around. It’s difficult because people make quick judgments when they see you without giving you a chance.

“If you have a disability, you’re seen as a second-class citizen, you’re seen as broken, so I always felt like I had to prove myself just to level the playing field.

“It wasn’t easy, and it did have an effect on my confidence, my self-worth, and my mental health. In certain gyms it’s about the brand and I didn’t really fit that brand.”

Defying the odds

There are two million people living with sight loss in the UK according to British Blind Sport.

Out of these two million, 340,000 are registered blind or partially sighted, and these people having the second-lowest participation rates in sport and physical activities among all impairment groups.

Mrs Khan completed the Cardiff Half Marathon last year for Sight Life in a personal best time of 1:56:39

This makes Mrs Khan’s achievements truly extraordinary, and she credits Women Connect First and her clients for this. “I’m quite lucky that my work and the organisation I work with are quite diverse, mainly because of the location,” she says.

“The gym I work in is based in Grangetown where there’s quite a vast BAME community and it’s the only gym that has a separate space which is purely for ladies, so women can come in and have a space that’s totally safe and they know there won’t be any men coming in.

“I get so much positive feedback from the ladies that I work with and they say I’ve made a big change in their lives, and I think for them to see me, someone like them, encourages them as well.”

She continues, “When I’m with them all my insecurities go away, and they fill me with confidence because they see how much my work means to me and how much it helps me, especially mentally.”

Mrs Khan has already achieved a great deal in her 10 years in sport, and her next 10 years will undoubtedly bring more groundbreaking success.




  • Emile Nuh

    Emile Nuh is a Sports Journalist who predominantly focuses on Formula 1 and Basketball. He did have a prior interest in Football, however the Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital Consortium takeover of Chelsea quickly put an end to that. Like many journalists Emile also has a “I could have made it pro if it wasn’t for my...story”. In his case, he attributes his dodgy shoulder as the one that brought an end to his sporting aspirations