I’m registered visually impaired.
Back in 2011, I was diagnosed with a condition that is slowly robbing me of my eyesight. I've now lost most of my vision, and because the condition is degenerative, I will go blind.
The reason why I’m telling you this is not because I want your sympathy. I’m telling you this because I’ve learned a couple of lessons which have changed my life, massively, for the better. And I want to share these lessons with you.
To be honest, I was devastated when I heard the optician tell me that I was going blind. I was working as an outdoor instructor at the time, and losing my eyesight – and my driving licence – was a game changer. It was 3 months before I began to find my way out of depression and my mental state was not great.
But by then, I had worked something out for myself. There wasn’t much I could do about my degenerating eyesight. But I had total control over what I did next. Just like everyone else, I wasn't going to be on this planet forever, so I might as well make every moment count. And how much I let my condition get in the way of that was completely up to me.
Lesson #1: Life is short. Don’t let anything
stop you from following your dreams.
So, I had a dream and I set myself a goal: to solo climb a rock face called El Capitan. It’s a 3000-foot-high climb in Yosemite in California. It took six days to climb, sleeping on a portable ledge suspended hundreds of feet above the valley each night, and I cried when I got to the top (but keep that to yourself). You can find out more in the ‘Adventures’ section, but for now, let’s just say that it was the best experience of my life. I’m proud to say that I’m the first visually impaired person to solo El Cap.
When I got back from El Cap, I dreamt even bigger: the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, but as a cyclist, riding on the back of a tandem with a fully-sighted athlete. I hadn’t raced a road bike before, but I figured that if I could solo climb El Cap, I could do this if I worked hard enough.
After two years of training, I was selected for Paralympics GB and won two gold medals, a bronze, and smashed the world record in the 4km pursuit.
Now, I’m not going to indulge in any false modesty here. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved. But the point is, I'm not super-talented, I'm just a normal guy. All I do is dream big, set myself a goal, and then do everything I can to make it happen.
Lesson #2: Almost anything can be
achieved if you are willing to work hard.
We all have obstacles in our lives: stuff that life throws at us, or barriers we put in ourselves. I’m trying to highlight that there’s not much that you can’t overcome, or at least work around, with the right mind set. I'm still terrified of losing my sight, but I have to keep living while I still can see. Since my diagnosis in 2011, I've had some of the best moments in my life, just because I refused to let something stand in my way.
I now split my time between racing for British Cycling, planning new adventures and sharing my story. I do this through public speaking and also by talking about what I’m up to on social media platforms. If you would like to book me for an appearance, please click for more information.
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It would be great to have you along for the ride.