Blind veteran Garry reaches new heights

21 September 2018 12:00

Last year we gave you an update on the climbing escapades of our blind veteran Garry. Since then he's reached ever greater heights with the support of one of our volunteers.

Garry sitting down looking at the climbing wall
Garry at the climbing centre.

Garry, 37, served in the Royal Air Force (RAF). In 2003 he broke his spine in two places following a parachute accident. Miraculously, he made a long journey to recovery, but in 2015 he lost his sight after a bout of chicken pox.

Garry went to his GP and was immediately referred to hospital. Within four days he lost the sight in his left eye and within two weeks he lost 95 per cent of the vision in his right eye. He eventually lost his vision completely.

Garry said at that time,

"I was absolutely devastated. I had always been really independent, really active, enjoying sports, and particularly running, and I thought now I will have to rely on people to do everything for me"

Garry began receiving support from our charity in 2016, and has since been given training and equipment to help him adapt to his sight loss.

Garry had not climbed in 12 years but was encouraged by staff member Lee in our Health and Wellbeing team to give it a go. To his surprise, it was something he could do, enjoyed doing, and actually was very good at.

Garry in his early climbing days
Garry takes to a climbing wall in 2017.

So, one year on, what progress has he made?

A quick glance at the photo below shows the level of difficulty of the climbing walls he is tackling has increased considerably since last year.

Garry climbing an extraordinarily tall climbing wall
Garry reaching new heights in 2018.

We caught up with Garry, just back from the ParaClimb Scotland 2018 competition. He came second in his category.

Garry with his climbing medal and certificate
Garry looking very pleased with his medal and certificate.

Garry says: "I had been carrying a bit of an injury in my shoulders, mainly due to pushing the boundaries in training, so I was pleased with the result and I am now a member of the Scottish Para Climbing Team."

Garry has several more competitions coming up during 2018 and we look forward to seeing his progress. As well as his own climbing practice, Garry is sharing his skills.

Garry says: "I hold a coaching session once a week, at my local climbing centre at St Andrew’s University, for other would-be climbers with disabilities – they range from amputees, those with brain injuries, deaf – a real mix."  

"People have found it funny to see me, a blind guy, with one arm strapped behind my back, or a leg strapped up, trying to work out how I can train those with missing limbs. What techniques they will need to climb safely."

Garry has been supported throughout by dedicated volunteer Andy, himself an experienced climber. Andy helps spot Garry during his training sessions and the pair have become a great team, accompanied by Garry's new lovely guide dog Lomond.

Garry with his friends and guide dog
Garry with his guide dog Lomond, Blind Veteran UK staff member Lee to Garry’s right and volunteer Andy, himself an experienced climber.

Great to catch up with you again Garry.  It will be encouraging for other blind veterans to know that sight loss does not prevent participation in all sorts of sports and activities reaching the highest levels.