Blind veterans Mark and Steve to complete three-day Iceland trek

30 August 2017 10:00

Our blind veterans Mark Threadgold, from East Sussex, and Steve Thomas from Conwy, are currently preparing to embark on a three-day Iceland trek with our charity and The Not Forgotten Association.

Mark Threadgold during the Mount Kilimanjaro challenge

Mark Threadgold, 49 and from Saltdean, was in the gym at our training and rehabilitation centre in Brighton when he first came across the challenge, which will begin on 31 August and has been arranged by The Not Forgotten Association. He says: “One of the instructors mentioned something about this Iceland trek. I’m always up for a challenge so I said, ‘why not’? That was that!”

2017 is proving to be a typically busy year for Mark, who sadly lost his sight in an accident in 1999. He explains: “I’ve taken part in a number of challenges with Blind Veterans UK, including a triathlon and an assault course. This year alone I’ve climbed Snowdon and most of Ben Nevis. The reason we didn’t do the whole thing was purely time-related!”

Mark, who’ll be taking on the challenge with fellow blind veteran Steve, has a passion for sport that begun in the Army, and despite losing his sight, he has continued to consistently challenge himself in a variety of sporting formats. 

Chief amongst his personal achievements are three world records. The first came in 2002 when he became the world’s fastest blind circumnavigator of the Isle of Wight in a rigid inflatable boat, travelling 57.74 nautical miles in just 1 hour and 50 minutes. In 2003, Mark set the Water Speed World Record in the Ultimate Blind Class when he drove a blade runner offshore racing powerboat across Windermere, reaching 99.19 mph. Later, in 2006, Mark set the record for the deepest scuba dive and closed-circuit rebreather drive by a blind person after diving 103 metres in the Red Sea.

He adds: “I’m also set to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in October. That’s the big one. That’s what makes this Iceland trek perfect in so many ways, it’ll be a continuation of my training and a wonderful experience at the same time.”

Mark explains that, given his sight loss, one of the most important things he trains on is how he interacts with his guide. Mark says: “I’m completely blind so it’s really important that the trust is there. We’re doing it with two guides from the charity so I know I’ll be in safe hands.

“What’s also a massive help is the walking sticks we’ve been supplied with. They’re absolutely essential. I actually managed to break mine the other day, though to be fair I’m not sure leaning 13 stone onto it was the best idea!”

Mark, who served in the Royal Corps of Signals from 1984 to 2001, started receiving support from us in 2000. He says: “It’s been an enormous help. The main thing has been independent living, whether that’s through computer or cooking equipment, they’ve really given me the confidence to go out there and continue doing what I was doing, and of course try many, many new things.

Steve Thomas

Amazingly for Steve Thomas, 45 and from Llanrwst, he was entered into the challenge, unknowingly. Steve explains “The Rehabilitation and Training Manager from the charity’s Llandudno centre put my name in the hat without me even knowing!

“Out of the blue, he told me that I’d been picked as one of the lucky few. I thought, ‘right then, time to get training!’”

Steve will be taking on the trek with fellow blind veteran, Mark Threadgold. The route will see the veterans begin in Landmannalaugar, crossing through Álftavatn and Emstrur before eventually finishing in Reykjavik.

While Steve has competed in a number of challenges since joining the charity in 2012, this is the first time he’ll have faced a task of this variety. He says: “I took part in the 100k Yorkshire challenge this year, a 100km walk through the night across the Yorkshire Dales. This trek will be an entirely different challenge though, we’ll be camping overnight and there’ll be a slightly slower pace, just stretched over a longer period of time.

“I’m looking forward to it. Iceland is a fascinating place, the kind of place lots of people want to go to so I’m really pleased to get the opportunity!”

After leaving school at the age of 16, Steve went straight into the Army, joining the Royal Signals on 26 May 1988. His Service saw him tour the UK, including Northern Ireland as well as Germany as a driver linesman, before eventually discharging as a Signalman on 16 Nov 1992. Upon his return to civilian life, Steve worked in various security and delivery jobs, before later retraining as a roofer.

Unfortunately for Steve, he began experiencing issues with his sight in 1993 due to macular edema, which affected his central vision. Then, in 2001, he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, which, amongst other things, renders Steve completely blind at night. Despite this, he was determined not to let his sight loss affect his life. Steve explains: “I actually carried on working until September 2009. I didn’t like to let it get to me. It was a slow process, which meant I had the chance to get on with my life and figure out how to adjust to the change. That’s not to say it wasn’t a shock for me though, or my family.”

Steve first came across our charity in 2010, before later joining in 2012. He explains: “At first I didn’t think I was eligible. My sight loss is not related to my Service. I later found out that the charity supports both war blinded and non-war blinded veterans, and that’s when I joined.

“The whole experience has been great. When I had to leave my job, my confidence was very low. I wouldn’t use local transport or anything like that, I’d have to depend on my wife quite heavily just to get around.

For now, Steve is focusing on getting his fitness in order, spending over an hour a day exercising and making sure he’s ready for any other surprise physical challenges that are sent his way!

The event, which is being funded by Help for Heroes, will see the Mark and Steve begin in Landmannalaugar, crossing through Álftavatn and Emstrur before eventually finishing in Reykjavik.