Seven vision impaired ex-Service men chosen to carry Olympic Torch

30 May 2012 15:14

Seven members of Blind Veterans UK have been chosen to carry the Olympic Torch.

Billy Baxter, Craig Lundberg, Darren Blanks, Simon Brown, Jamie Cuthbertson, Mike Scholes and Jamie Weller have all earned the honour because they are such an inspiration to other blind veterans and for not allowing sight loss to hold them back.

Each of the men will take a turn carrying the torch for a leg of its 8,000 mile journey at different locations across the UK.

Jamie Weller - 22nd May - Bristol

Losing his eyesight whilst in the Royal Navy, aged 20, left Jamie with complete loss of central vision and only some peripheral vision. After rebuilding his life and getting a degree he started training at Deloitte and became the first blind qualified member of the Institute of Tax. He has also previously given his time to act as a trustee for Blind Veterans UK. Jamie's nominator said of him "What makes him truly inspirational is his amazing positive attitude, he is determined not to let his blindness undermine his ambitions".

Craig Lundberg - 1st June - Liverpool

26-year-old Craig Lundberg from Mossley Hill was blinded while on service in Iraq in 2007. He will carry the flame from Wirral to the Pier Head. He says it will be a doubly proud moment for him following the birth of son Ben earlier this month. 

Jamie Cuthbertson - 8th June - Kilmarnock, Scotland

A father of four from Glasgow, Jamie lost his sight in an explosives accident in 1986. Since then he has taken part in events including the Marathon des Sables, Gobi Challenge, North Pole Marathon, London Triathlon and Commando Challenge. Jamie says: "I remember how frightening it was to walk on my own for the first time after the accident to the postbox round the corner and how pleased I was to make it safely home. I want others to see that it is only by taking the first steps on their journey that they can move forward in life."

Darren Blanks - 21st June - Flimby, Cumbria

25 year-old Darren from Egremont, Cumbria fought in Iraq during 2005 and 2007 and began to lose his sight in June 2010. Tests revealed he had a benign brain tumour but specialists said this was not the cause of his loss of sight. Darren underwent an operation to remove the tumour but, as a result, he lost the hearing in his left ear, leaving a small crack in his skull. Then he was admitted to hospital following two bouts of meningitis and spent eight days in the intensive care unit in a coma.  He has remained positive and independent, not letting this affect his active lifestyle. He is currently hoping to compete in the West Cumberland Run in memory of PC Bill Barker who was killed in the West Cumbrian floods.

Simon Brown - 25th June - Morley, Yorkshire

Simon's life changed forever in 2006 when he was shot in face saving the lives of six of his colleagues in Iraq.

The bullet shattered Simon's skull and took most of his sight. After months of rehabilitation and dozens of operations to rebuild his face, Simon is now employed by Blind Veterans UK, the charity that helped him come to terms with his sight loss. Simon regularly helps young people at the charity to come to terms with their own loss of vision and encourages them to try new activities and take on everyday challenges in order to rebuild their confidence. He has been recognised for his contribution to charity with a General Officer Commanding Commendation. Simon has not had an easy journey on his road to recovery and has battled with the impact of his injuries. He now uses those experiences to help others overcome their own difficulties and is a true inspiration to his community. 

Billy Baxter - 7th July - Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

A former Staff Sergeant in the British Army, Billy tragically lost his sight after serving in the Bosnian conflict, leading to the loss of his job, home and a life he loved. Blind Veterans UK helped Billy look to the future and he now works full-time at their centre in Llandudno, helping other blind veterans adjust to sight loss. In 2009, Billy bravely entered a classroom of teenagers as a 45 year old man when he enrolled on a National Diploma Performing Arts course at Cambridge Regional College to develop public speaking and performance skills. Billy has used his new found talents in countless ways such as appearing in the village pantomime as the Blind Dame. He also ran the 2001 London marathon whilst chained to a submariner for charity, holds the blind land speed record for a solo ride on a motorbike at more than 164 miles an hour and has appeared on Top Gear as the 'blind man in a reasonably-priced car'.

His daughter and four granddaughters live close to Bury St Edmunds and will be there on the day their Grandad carries the Olympic Torch as part of the National relay team. Billy says "It is a great honour and I will be carrying it for all our Service men and women". 

Mike Scholes - 16th July - Westergate, West Sussex

Mike Scholes from Lindfield is a former Royal Navy pilot and founder of his own ballooning company. In November 2007 Mike lost 85 per cent of his sight through a hereditary condition of which he was unaware. Despite this massive setback, Mike has gone on to even more inspirational achievements. In December 2008, aged 55, he ran his first marathon in 3hrs 18mins. Then in January 2009 he skied black runs with Blind Veterans UK in the Dolomites. He has run the London Marathon three times and has completed two Olympic Distance Triathlons. Undaunted by his sight loss, in April 2010 Mike raised over £13,000 for Blind Veterans UK by trekking to the North Pole and camping on the shifting ice for 10 nights and has also walked 100kms in 22 hours for the charity. His grit, stamina and overcoming of adversity is inspirational and he continues to spreads his vision by giving motivational talks to schools and clubs.

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