Meet Juliana Sweeney-Baird

by Anne Calder

IDC recently posted a guest article by American retired ice dance competitor Christopher Martin Davis:, titled Ice Dancing for Everyone: How Inclusive Skating is Expanding our Sport into the Future. The author suggested  that the greater ice dance community should be introduced to Juliana Sweeney-Baird. The following is the Q&A interview with the 2021 Inclusive Skating Solo World Champion.

Please tell me about your family, where you grew up and live, siblings etc.?
I have two older siblings: A sister who is 29 and a brother who is 22 years old. My mother is Irish and my father is Scottish so all of my siblings including me have Irish passports. 

I was born in London [March 3, 2003] and spent the first four years of my life in London before my siblings, mother and I moved to Glasgow in Scotland. However, my sister and brother now live back down in London whilst my mother and I still live in Bearsden, Scotland. 

However, due to my medical condition my care is mainly based down in London, so I travel very frequently between the two cities and consider London my second home. 

What is your earliest skating skating memory. How old were you when you first put on a pair of skates and began your skating journey?
My earliest skating memory is when my mother took me to Torino, Italy in 2010 to see the World Championships of figure skating and I was in awe at what I saw. I sat in the audience for hours and watched all of the figure skaters which for a 7 year old is quite something. 

My mother realised that this was something I was interested in and in the summer of 2010 she enrolled me into the learn to skate program at the East Kilbride rink. At the age of 7 I put on my first pair of boots and stepped onto the ice for the very first time in my life. 

How long have you been skating and competing.
I am now 19 so I’ve been skating for 12 years and competing for 10 of those years. 

Where do you train? Who is your coach and choreographer?
My home rink is East Kilbride where I have trained for many years and my coach is Leanne Collins who is also my choreographer. My mother Margarita Sweeney also spends a huge amount of time guiding me on the ice due to my visual impairment and coaching me. 

Due to the Covid Pandemic the rink has been very impacted in the amount of skating hours it can provide so I also skate at Kilmarnock and Coatbridge where my mother runs an Inclusive skating session for skaters like me with all sorts of disabilities so they can have the opportunity to skate as well. 

How has Bardet-Biedl Syndrome affected your skating?
Bardet-Biedl Syndrome Type 1, the condition that I have has massively impacted my skating career. Without inclusive skating I would never have been able to achieve anything in the normal system of British Ice Skating.

My condition includes disregulation, so I don’t regulate temperature, heart rate or sugar levels which mean that I need a lot of care in order for me to be able to skate. 

I am very fortunate that my mother has been incredibly supportive of my skating career such as getting me to the rink, guiding me on the ice, which is hugely important as without my mother guiding me I would not be able to skate. 

However, as much as there are many barriers that I face in my skating career, I have been able to overcome these with support from my coach Leanne and my parents who are both incredibly supportive of me and my skating career. 

I understand you also attend college in Scotland. What are you studying?  Do you skate and attend classes at the same time or are they on different schedules?
Yes, I am currently studying at the University of Glasgow in my first year of a four year degree studying Social and Public Policy as my main degree. 

Due to the Covid Pandemic all of our lectures are online at the moment, but they are mainly live which makes it a tad difficult to make lectures as some of these are immediately after I skate. 

My skating is in the morning, and then I have classes in the weekdays. On the weekends I skate and  don’t have any classes. However, it is definitely challenging managing both studying and skating. 

What other competitions have you attended in addition the Virtual World event?
This is going to be a long list! As it has been 10 years, and I have competed in a lot of competitions include the World Figure Championships in Colorado, USA, the Jeans for Genes competition which was held down in Lammas in Liverpool for a number of years.

I have also competed in the Scottish championships that was held in 2019, the Santa Claus Cup in Finland, and I have also competed in competitions in Iceland. 

There will be another Virtual World Competition in November 2022. Will you train for that Event?
Absolutely! I enjoy competing as these competitions give me something to look forward to in my life as living with my disability is incredibly difficult. Not only are these competitions important in helping me to continue training for my physical health, but they are also important for my mental health. 

I understand you are a strong advocate for Bardet-Biedl Syndrome. What are your activities? 
I have been involved in the BBS Conference which they have held for a number of years. A few years ago I gave a presentation to the other people who are part of the Bardet-Biedl community who were at the conference from a patient’s perspective. 

This is the key event that I have taken part in over the years and have been going there even before I was diagnosed with BBS in 2015 at the age of 12. 

As an extra, there was also a short clip of me on BBC Three which received over 2 million views which was about my skating and my condition. This video helped to spread awareness of the condition as it is incredibly rare and is often unheard of for many people. 

According to Christopher Davis’ guest article, Margarita Sweeney-Baird founded Inclusive Skating in 2012. Please share your relationship.
Yes, my mother created the Inclusive Skating Charity for people with disabilities. No, I was not the inspiration for the charity as I was not even diagnosed at the time the charity was created. However, I have been able to watch how the charity has grown to be able to provide opportunities to skaters like myself with many different disabilities across the globe. 

Due to my relationship, I am often used as the guinea pig for a lot of the events. I see the behind the scenes of everything and nobody really understands the amount of work and willpower that it takes to run the charity.