There’s ‘snow’ looking back for West Sussex blind veteran who’s learnt to ski!
A blind veteran from West Sussex has been skiing in Italy, with other vision-impaired Armed Forces veterans, thanks to national military charity, Blind Veterans UK.
This January, Alan Walker, 58 and from Hassocks, was excited to ski for the first time with the support of Blind Veterans UK. Alan went skiing in the Italian Dolomites mountain range with 18 other vision-impaired skiers for the charity’s 40th annual skiing trip.
Alan says: “Honestly, this was one of the best weeks of my life. A holiday of a lifetime.”
Born in Wallasey, Merseyside, Alan Walker left school at 16 and joined the RAF for 8 months. He then changed to the Army in November 1976 and joined the Royal Corps of Transport, serving in the UK, Germany and the Falklands until August 1990.
Years after leaving the Armed Forces, one night in December 2012, Alan’s whole world fell apart. He was diagnosed with pneumococcal disease, a rare eye disease, which robbed him of his sight. This came as a huge shock for Alan and his family.
Alan says “It was the most terrifying thing to have ever happened to me – a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from.”
Thankfully for Alan, help was just around the corner.
He said “When I went blind, I thought, ‘I have to do something, I want to look forward’.”
A year after his diagnosis Alan was put in touch with the charity Blind Veterans UK, who support all vision-impaired veterans, no matter when they served and how they lost their sight. Alan has been receiving free support and training from the charity ever since.
Alan visited the charity’s rehabilitation and training centre in Brighton, for his induction week into the charity. It was here that Alan was shown how to use a range of special equipment to help make the most of the fractional sight he has left. He was given a desktop magnifier, meaning for the first time he could look at the photos from his daughter Tracy’s wedding – an incredibly emotional moment for both Alan and his wife, Shirley.
This year, Alan joined 18 other vision-impaired skiers from Blind Veterans UK to take on the Italian slopes. For Alan, it was a previous Blind Veterans UK event which encouraged him to go on the trip.
Alan says “I took part in a Blind Veterans UK adrenaline weekend in Brighton which included downhill skiing. I really enjoyed it and was told I was quite the natural by my fellow veterans. Next thing I knew I was paying my deposit for the trip to Italy!”
For Alan, the support and confidence of Louise Timms, the Gym manager at the Brighton centre, was invaluable. He said “I can’t thank Louise enough. She was so encouraging and her support really pushed me to go on the trip.”
Alan was glowing in his praise for all aspects of the trip. He says “I can’t speak highly enough of everyone who helped make the trip so great, but especially my guide Chris Buttle. I had complete faith in Chris and he made me feel very relaxed at all times.”
He continued “the camaraderie in the group was incredible. We challenged each other, but all helped each other out. It was just like being back in the forces”.
Despite this being his first time on the slopes, Alan has well and truly caught the skiing bug. So much so that his name is already down for the 2018 trip.
Alan says “I could never have imagined myself skiing at 58, thanks to Blind Veterans UK I’ve managed to achieve something I never thought I’d do”.
Blind Veterans UK is the national charity for blind and vision-impaired ex-Service men and women, providing vital practical and emotional support to help veterans discover life beyond sight loss. The charity estimates that there are currently 650 blind veterans in West Sussex that would be eligible to access its specialist support, most of whom are not currently aware of it.
If you, or someone you know, served in the Armed Forces or did National Service and are now battling severe sight loss, find out how Blind Veterans UK could help by calling 0800 389 7979 or visiting noonealone.org.uk.