The third episode of the September Inclusion series features Thibault Trancart, based in Geneva (Switzerland) and founder of No Blink. With No Blink, Thibault offers services such as conferences and workshops, with the aim to raise awareness plus take off the negative perception of visual impairment, but also inspire people to use their struggles as a force to move forward. In this discussion, he shares his journey of becoming blind as an early teenager, then moving to Canada for his university studies, and later training as a ski athlete to compete in the 2018 winter paralympics. Listen to his story.
Please note that the recording conditions were not optimal. In spite of our best efforts, there is still some residual background noise and we hope this will not affect your listening experience. Thank you for your kind understanding.
At the end of the show, the guests share a sneak preview into their favourite music or books by answering the same set of questions. Here are the links to Thibault’s answers. The song he listens to often at the moment is ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ by Twisted Sisters. The music that particularly resonated with him at a specific time in his life are movie soundtracks, in particular Lord of The Rings, The Island, and Gladiator. His all-time favourite song that he absolutely recommends is ‘Whatever It Takes’ by Imagine Dragons.
If you want to follow Thibault on social media, you can find him on LinkedIn
Here are some additional useful links. You can learn more about the Trust to Achieve Association, the organisation Thibault mentioned, on their website. In case you wish to have more information on No Blink, you can visit the website or follow through the social media handles: LinkedIn and Facebook.
Hello, and welcome to a new episode of Narratives of Purpose. My name is Claire Murigande, I am your host on this show. And my goal is to amplify social impact by bringing you inspiring individual stories of ordinary people who are making extraordinary social impact within their communities or around the world. So if you're looking for a programme that showcases unique stories of changemakers, stories of people who are contributing to make a difference in society, and at the same time you want to get inspired to take action, then this podcast is definitely for you. This week is the third episode of our inclusion series. And my guest today is simply phenomenal. His name is Thibault Trancart. He is based in Geneva. Thibault lost his sight as a teenager, yet he refused to be treated differently. Not only did he follow a normal academic path, he even took up Paralympic alpine skiing, and competed on an international circuit with the Swiss Paralympic Ski Team. Tebow is also a motivational speaker, he founded No Blink, where he offers services, such as conferences and workshops, with the aim to raise awareness and take off the negative perception of visual impairment. Please take a moment to rate and review our show on your preferred podcast listening app. But right now, have a listen to Thibault's amazing journey in how he inspires people to dream and make their dreams come true.
So Thibault a warm welcome to you. And it's great to have you on the show. How are you today?
I'm good. And thank you for having me on the show
Great. I mean, the pleasure is mine, obviously. And I have to say that I'm really thrilled to have you today. And thank you so much for accepting to join me, I'd like to begin with explaining to our listeners how I got connected with you. So recently, I heard you on the radio show, and you were sharing your journey. So I was absolutely captivated by your story. And it just so happens that the other guest on that show is someone that I know. So our mutual friend kind of connected us after this show. And the reason why I was captivated by your story is because you basically lost your sight as an early teenager, and there were two things that came across during that discussion on that show that were really powerful to me. And the first one is that you actually chose to become a professional skiing athlete after your studies and you trained for the 2018 Paralympic Games. And the second thing is that you created a platform, a website, which is called No Blink. What you do with this platform is that you share your experience and your objective is to raise awareness and remove the whole negative perception around visual impairment. So I've already said a lot about you. But I would like to give you the stage to introduce yourself to our listeners, and share a bit of your background. So please go ahead.
I was born and raised in Geneva, I lived most of my life here and just a bit of background on how I became blind. I lost the first eye, the left one when I was two, because of a cancer and that same cancer went into my right eye when I was five. At that point, it was just the beginning of a long, long fight with cancer because it lasted for nine years. But despite everything I mean, we went through all the possible treatments to try to save the eye and at the end I could still see pretty well actually from that single eye. And that was until I was 13 when I became really visually impaired because of the side effects of the treatments. But the eyesight dropped from 98% to 10%, 15% in about a week, and it never really got back up. And that became the beginning not the end in terms of my life. And that's why I went into the international school, got my international baccalaureate and went to study abroad at Montreal. And yeah, when I got back from university in 2015, that's when I decided to not work in a company. But actually kind of get onboard with guidance on different conditions. Never been a sports person so not even an athlete. So what really came out of the blue was juggling at first. And I did that for four and a half years, just before my career.
So for me in what you just explained that kind of like, three turning points, where as a young teenager, you were, you know, you lost your sight. And then later on after starting your studies, you went abroad. So you moved from Switzerland to Canada. And then you came back and chose to not start a corporate life, which was what you had trained for. But then you decided to pursue this career as an athlete? How did you go through these different moments?
The big challenge here is that I became blind in January 2006. And I was right in the middle of my ninth year at the school system. And the idea was that I had to learn how to live again. In September 2006, I was back in school. So I had kind of eight months to get used to the idea to then start at International School. So that was, I think, a big challenge, but it got even bigger when I started the international school because then I had to get used to the new school environment. And the fact I couldn't speak English was a hell of a challenge as well. And everything was in English there. So it was really the idea to learn English so that I could get away from Switzerland, in places that are a lot more adaptive for blind people. And why Canada? Just because I went twice and just loved it so much. And yes, it was a big turning point to leave. Because in the end, I went to Montreal city that I didn't know at all and the closest family was an ocean away from me. But it was a lot easier to move over there in the city that I didn't know because it was a lot more adaptive than staying in Geneva and that year once I was back on that ski project, there's big story behind it, but to summarise it basically, when I became blind, the only thing that I learned in terms of sport was skiing. But I wasn't a good one. I would practice on Saturdays and Sundays, that was a part of the week, then when I became blind, that was one of the first things to relearn basically - how to ski in tandem with a guide. And first that was my guide, and the year after it was a friend who became my guide and we clicked right away. I was 15 at the time, he was about 11. And everything was good and he would just say, "Okay, let's do the Paralympics!" But it was just a joke. And I decided to become an idea. And for some reason that I can't explain still to this day. So that was Christmas in my last year at university. I was talking with one of my friends friends and she asked me "what do you want to do after university?" and I didn't know what to say, and I don't know why I said that. That joke popped up in my hand just like that. "What I'm gonna do is be an athlete in the Paralympics" I had no idea what I was talking about. She put it on Facebook, and so this is where I think it became super real. And everybody was supporting me saying, "Yeah, go for it, go for it." And I actually started to have sponsors before even finishing my bachelor degree, so I got back in Montreal for my last year, that was the plan to do the graduation in May, in July to mid June and go back to Geneva and start training.
So you basically had this 'silly idea' of competing in the Paralympics, or at least training to be able to compete in the Paralympic Games. And even before you started doing that you already had a full support system, and sponsors. Is that correct?
Well, the sponsor was actually the gym where I trained. They were super down with the project. And so they said "yeah, we'll support you and we'll physically train you" When I went back from my job as a party host. I mean, it was more cigarettes and alcohol in my blood, nothing of a sports person at all. So it was quite a shift because I remember the first test we did, a cardio test, part of the test was October 10 2015, I remember the date because in nine minutes I switched from standing up with a little arrogance and being a bit pretentious. And then nine minutes later, we're just throwing up all over the place and my guide too. Yeah, it was kind of a wake up call. And yeah, as you said it was mainly training but again at this time, I had no idea what I was doing. So we didn't get selected for 2018, of course with my guide I was so in the game that I just, we talked and said "Let's push it off 2022." So we went still for two more years on the circuit and reached Europe at level one, it was a decision to start a project. So in the end, we did reach a tonne of people. And it's just the best experience that I hoped for. Before switching to a more corporate career, just working so much personally and professionally. That was just pure gold.
And I also recall that during the radio show that I was listening to you also say that this whole experience was transformational because it developed you in some aspects that you had even ignored? Can you explain a bit on what that meant for you?
First, just in terms of physical shape. I mean, I had no shape at all. And just going to that gym and having the discipline really, because it was a full time job. And that's what I didn't realise. And it's a sport. So you have to find solutions, that's something I really struggled with at first, and it took a lot of time to get better at and still, I was nowhere near what was natural to do. It was a really good introduction to all of that, in fact, when it's the context that's different, but the way you approach it is exactly the same. And I think whether it's my physical trainer at sportquest, or my guide, she's the one who I would have never gone that far without, the fact that she pushed me and she challenged me. And she's also one of the people that really shaped me, as well, because she forced me to make decisions. I'm not really that competitive guy who makes decisions and just goes. In super hardcore situation, I can do it, but on an everyday basis, it's not really, my strength, and she pushed me to do this and I'm really grateful
If you had started something else, which is not that skiing, and that objective to be part of the Paralympic Games where, from my understanding, is that you just went into something that you had no idea about. If it was something else, where you were much more comfortable or you knew more, do you think that your resilience level would have changed?
I think the sport project really helped me to build that resilience into more work environments. But it didn't change much. I mean, I knew people didn't believe in me. And I mean, I couldn't blame them. I was 23, never did sports at all, no background, and just coming and saying out of the blue "I can do that" But I didn't care because I knew why I was there. My mindset was "if I stop this project, it's because I reached my objective or because I decided to stop and not because people told me to stop"
I mentioned in the beginning that you have this platform called No Blink. So tell me a bit about how that started. And was it you preparing a transition from the end of sports into entering the corporate world? Tell me about that.
I'm still doing a scheme project when I first mentioned No Blink, and why No Blink? I was just having a drink with friends looking for a nice way to retire. One day, I wanted to be a professional speaker. And we just bounced around ideas until No Blink came. It was actually quite nice, because I've got two prosthetic eyes, so I can't blink anymore. That was the idea behind it. So I don't blink. It was kind of appropriate. Why did I actually want to do that actually? It's funny because I hated presenting. If I went to university, if I could be the guy at the back, just hiding behind everybody else, and just giving the quick intro for a presentation, I'd be super happy. But a university that really taught us how to present. Most of our good projects were presentations. So I kind of got used to it and started enjoying it more and more. And when I went back, I gave a couple of speeches at the conferences at the international school. At this point it just felt like this is something that I could really, really enjoy actually being a professional speaker and that's pretty much how the idea of No Blink became live. And the idea is, as you said there was the idea of raising awareness about being blind, that it's not as bad as what we think there's also the idea of allowing yourself to dream. That's really the idea behind No Blink. Dream crazy, motivate people to do so and to follow their dreams.
You're basically doing public speaking. wWhat type of audience have you had up until now? Are you doing this, for instance, for corporate or for specific events? Can you tell me about that?
I didn't really target any specific audience with No Blink. If I'm PNG today, it's because I met someone who does speeches at the International School that led me into PNG. So I got the opportunity to give speeches for PNG, some more corporate speeches, and that was more motivational. Whereas at the International Schools it's more like the conference, a one hour talk about disability, being blind. And I did some workshops as well. For the Montessori school, you put the kids in pairs, one is blind and the other one is the guide, then you do an obstacle course. And it's actually fascinating to hear them getting feedback for this so with kids. I never had the opportunity to do that with adults. But I would like to try to see the difference.
I recently actually went through an exercise like that. So I'm at the end of my MBA programme that I'm doing here in Zurich, and one of our lecturers, he has a really quite unconventional way of teaching, I would say, which I really loved. And one of the exercises that we had was to be in pairs. And just like you said, have one person guide you, you have your eyes closed. And we were supposed to walk for a few minutes, and the person was supposed to guide us. And that was quite an experience. And that's how you see that you rely a lot on the rest of your senses. But you also have to trust the person who is guiding you.
I mean, I've heard people who've done that, who share their experiences, some didn't like it at all. They justy panicked. Because they couldn't, they have to trust others, so we learn to trust others, which was not such an easy thing. And that's why I'm super happy to have became blind when I was 14 and not past 20. Because I know this is something when you're a teenager, you're definitely easier than if you're 20.
So part of the workshops you just mentioned in the talks you had are for younger people. So it's quite educational, how has that been received by both the you know, the teenagers or the children? And perhaps also the adults around that?
When I did the presentations to kids, I mean, they were between six and eight years old. They asked questions like they don't even think if it's a good question or not. That's great, because they asked the question, whereas if you present it to teenagers or older, adults are the least comfortable asking questions about disability.
So you said that you're now working in the corporate environment, and you're with Procter and Gamble. What is your role there? What are you doing exactly?
So I am a brand manager so it's marketing, haircare. So I got projects that are oriented around shampoo and conditioners. I've also got a working project, which is how to make our brands more accessible for people with disabilities. I really love it.
Yeah, that leads me actually to the next question I had in terms of supporting inclusion of people with disability within the workplace. If I recall properly the first time we discussed this, you had mentioned that you founded a group that is working in this area. So tell me about that. And what do you do exactly?
So the association called First To Achieve, our mission is really to improve the integration of the visually impaired people within the professional world. So I'm not the founder, it's a really good friend who founded it - he is actually the president. And the other is that on one hand, we coach companies on how to integrate a person, whether it's visually impaired or blind. So what are the different tools and there's a lot of questions about how you interact with someone? How do you know what's something to do or something not to do? So, these are the questions that companies have lots when it comes to these topics, that basically the entire message is really focused on the playback. Yes, you're blind but in the end, you have skills, you have personality, and it's how those skills and personality fit with every company rather than how your physical appearance, have you get your five senses or not? We helped the company to get around that, we showed people that yes, they can, they can work and they can work just as good as anybody else. And so that's the company aspect. But then we got the visually impaired, which is and that's really cool. She provides the kind of mentoring aspect then get more specific coaching towards having to prepare yourself for a job interview, and you prepare your CV. So it's one of the coaching aspects and the address to puts in contact with the state organisations, companies and the VIPs and their vision impaired people that we create, we use the system and try to try to change the mentality really.
And in terms of needs, you're now working with state organisations and companies, and you're also coaching the people or mentoring them to be more confident? Do you see any other needs or any other other gaps? I'm thinking, especially in terms of education, because what you clearly said before is that the younger the people are, the easier you can kind of integrate this whole aspects. So have you observed specific needs or gaps where you think, you know, people can do something?
The big problem is that you got those teenagers that do this or that naturally, whatever. But once they're done with our series, they hit a roadblock, they're stuck. Nobody is offering them their results, so they gotta figure it out. And that's really that, where we kick in business, to do that transition from your cities to finding opportunities. And that's the idea of creating that network and linking all those organisations, whether it's companies, states or caregivers to give visually impaired people, those opportunities that are around that they don't necessarily know about. How to support them, give them the tools they need, and they can just do whatever they choose to, and not whatever society told them they could do. Because I mean, if we're based on that, then as long as you have a disability, according to society, you shouldn't do much, especially in countries like Switzerland.
And would you say that your experience in Canada has, has helped you to bring fresh, new ideas that you could try and implement here in Switzerland?
We're in a culture where difference is super scary. So instead of asking questions, and breaking the ice, we just presume, and what was really fascinating, I think when I got back in Switzerland, that you got people that talked about integration, and integration, basically, it's men and women, equality, LGBTQ and people with disabilities. Already, as it is, you got at least three categories. I'm not even including skin colours, but you already have natural categorization by society. And when they came to integration, it was fascinating when they started talking to me about diversity, inclusion, and a term that I don't even know exists in English, which is exceeded, in French translated into that means it is men and women quality, diversity was LGBTQ and inclusion was people disability. So basically, that integration, you integrate three categories of people by reinforcing the categories. And as soon as you want to bring them towards something different, people just freak out. It's quite nice. It's quite, well quite funny actually. And we think of integration, when you think about it, you got diversity and inclusion, diversity is who you are. And inclusion is what you do. It's how you bring those two factors within the group, and that's integration. So there is no place sexual orientation, gender, physical or intellectual mental differences. I'm not saying that Canada's perfect, but in terms of that, they are a lot more advanced, and because they see those things as just differences, they're more advanced, socially speaking. And when I got back to Geneva, it was a big blow. I mean, the first interview that I got was not about what can you do? It's what "can the blind dude do?" "What are you capable of doing?" Because you're blind, so people don't know.
What I like to do at the end of every show is I ask my guests the same questions to get a kind of a sneak peek into the music that they like to listen to or the books they like to read. And the first one is what are you listening to very often at the moment?
At the moment, the music...Oh, actually, the one that I'm listening to very, very often is "We're not going to take it" by Twisted Sisters. I think it's a 1980s rock group. I mean that one's really a booster really. Gets you up in the morning. I love it.
The second question is, do you have a song or an album that was special for you at a specific time in your life? Something you're probably fond of that you remember, particularly?
I don't have a particular album, but I do have the one that I always loved. And this is, even before I became blind, or movie soundtracks, I would say one of my favourite movie soundtracks, you've got Lord of The Rings, you've got The Islands. Also, I love music. I got many, many of them. Gladiator is definitely one of the best. And especially since I became blind, I loved them prior to that. When I became blinded it took on a whole new meaning just because they made me, they just made me dream a lot. You know, it's epic music and it makes you travel in your head. And that's something that I definitely love.
And the last question is, do you have a piece of music that you would absolutely recommend for our listeners?
One that I listened to recently during the scheme project was "Whatever It Takes" from Imagine Dragon. I mean, I still listen to that a lot. And it's definitely an inspiring one I think.
Thank you so much for sharing all these tips. And I'll make sure that I'll have them in the show notes so that listeners can go back to them if they want to discover. We're now at the end of the show. And I'd really like to thank you for taking the time to join me today for sharing your story for being open. And I really hope we stay in touch because I really find that what you're doing is amazing. I will leave you the last word, do you have something that you'd like to share before we close?
Just a big thank you for inviting me and it was really, really, really nice. What's your perspective on the different things that I'm doing? It was a really, really rich experience. And thank you so much for that.
That was episode 20. A Conversation with a Thibault Trancart. As I told you, in my introduction, Thibault is simply phenomenal. And he's such a great source of motivation. I particularly like a quote on his website, which reads, "blindness is not about not being able to see, it's about seeing further than you thought possible." If you wish to learn more about No Blink, and perhaps even benefit from his offerings, just check his website at no-blink.com. You'll also find the link in the show notes. Thank you so much for tuning in today, and listening to this new episode. I really appreciate you taking the time. If you like our show, do share it within your network and leave us a review wherever you listen to your podcasts. Make sure you also sign up for our newsletter, so you can stay informed about all our activities. And don't forget to follow the show on social media. Check us out on Facebook, at narratives of purpose on Instagram, at narrativesofpurpose_podcast, and on LinkedIn at Narratives of Purpose Podcast. Join me again next week for the final episode of this special series. I will discuss empowering lives beyond disability in Africa with my next guest. Until then, take care of yourself, stay well and stay inspired.