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    Blind veterans from the US & South Africa make a visit to our Llandudno centre

    Last week we welcomed blind veterans from the US and South Africa to our Llandudno centre as part of our Project Gemini.

    Project Gemini is an exchange programme which enables our blind veterans and the BVA (Blinded Veterans Association) to share experiences and knowledge about blind rehabilitation and readjustment training. The veterans also discuss vision research and adaptive technology for the blind which may differ in the US and South Africa.

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    Each year members of the BVA cross the pond to catch up with our blind veterans and take part in new activities and experiences. Later in the year, our veterans then fly over to the US to do the same.

    This year Major Tom Zampieri (Ret), a legally blind veteran himself, accompanied the group as the trip coordinator. The group took part in many activities such as paddle boarding and buggy driving.

    “This week is so important because the three groups of veterans are able to share helpful hints about coping with blindness and the “war stories” that are part of their personal adjustment to blindness and subsequent rehabilitation” says Tom.

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    “We’ve learned about strategies for coming to terms with sight loss, lessons from the American, British and South African healthcare systems and veterans’ services, and how all of our organisations can best support blind veterans in our three nations.

    “This year’s exchange was particularly special as we visited Wales for the first time and stayed at the Blind Veterans UK rehabilitation and training centre in Llandudno.”

    British blind veteran Colin Williamson says: “Blind Veterans UK is very proud to have been able to welcome comrades from around the world to Wales.

    “The week was great fun and we had brilliant weather but what it’s really about is ex-Service men from different countries coming together to share experiences and support each other.”

    Blind veterans go paddle boarding with the Project Gemini group!

    Blind military veterans from the US and South Africa have joined our blind veterans for paddle boarding in Colwyn Bay.

     

    The veterans, the majority of whom were blinded in Iraq and Afghanistan, are currently visiting Wales as part of a week-long trip to the UK for members of the US organisation Blinded Veterans Association (BVA), through an exchange programme between the Association and Blind Veterans UK called Project Gemini.

     

    Project Gemini enables Blind Veterans UK and the BVA to share experiences and knowledge about matters such as blind rehabilitation and readjustment training, vision research and adaptive technology for the blind. This year, two blind veterans from South Africa’s St. Dunstan’s Association have also joined the project.

     

    The veterans will engage in adaptive technology activities and sports for the blind. As well as trying paddle boarding with Colwyn Bay Watersports, the group have also visited nearby historic sites such as Caernarfon Castle. They have also experienced driving hovercrafts and buggies and tackled the fastest zip wire in the world.

    Project Gemini paddle boarding

    Project Gemini paddle boarding

     

    Major Tom Zampieri (Ret.), a legally blind veteran himself, leads the BVA group. He says: “This week is so important because the three groups of veterans are able to share helpful hints about coping with blindness and the “war stories” that are part of their personal adjustment to blindness and subsequent rehabilitation.

    Major Tom Zampieri (Ret.)

    Major Tom Zampieri (Ret.)

     

    “This year’s exchange is particularly special as the group are visiting Wales for the first time and staying at the Blind Veterans UK rehabilitation and training centre in Llandudno.”

     

    British blind veteran Colin Williamson says: “Blind Veterans UK is very proud to welcome comrades from around the world to Wales.

     

    “This week has been great fun but what it’s really about is ex-Service men and women from different countries coming together to share experiences and support each other.”

     

    To find out more about the free support our charity gives to blind and vision impaired veterans please visit: blindveterans.org.uk

    Navy Officer to run 100k in less than 12 hours in support of Blind Veterans UK

    Navy Officer to run 100k in less than 12 hours in support of Blind Veterans UK

    Last year Paul Wright decided to take on our 100 kilometre challenge… but walking 100k wasn’t enough!

    Paul decided to run the 100k and incredibly managed to complete it in14 hours with the second fasted time out of over 200 competitors.

    This year Paul has taken it a step further. He has decided to run the 100k again but this time complete the challenge in under 12 hours.

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    Paul says: “The 100k run was incredibly tough but I feel I can do better this time as I got lost a couple of times in the middle of the night. It might be a little ambitious but ideally I’d like to finish in less than 12 hours.”

    Paul discovered our charity recently due to his military background. He says: “Before last year I didn’t realise the scope of the support Blind Veterans UK provides across the country.

    “Having read stories on both Second World War veterans and the younger ones coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan and how they are being supported by Blind Veterans UK I feel it is important to support the charity.”

    Paul joined the Royal Navy in 1991 as an apprentice. He has worked as a Weapon Engineer on many ships including HMS Cornwall, HMS Montrose, HMS Leeds Castle, HMS Richmond, HMS Daring and HMS Illustrious serving around the world.

    Paul Wright 3

    Our 100k London to Brighton event kicks off in Fulham on Saturday 2nd July and ends at our Brighton centre. Registration is still open and we ask for a registration fee of £75 to cover all costs.

    Moreover, we are currently running a special offer for the event. Why not sign up as a team of four with a relay option of 25k each? The registration fee is only £120 for the team.

    To sign up or find more information about the 100k visit our website here: http://www.blindveterans.org.uk/100k

    To support Paul please visit justgiving.com/P-wright3.

    Veteran who battled blood cancer to walk 100k in support of Blind Veterans UK.

    34 year old Tommy Sharpe is walking 100k for Blind Veterans UK after witnessing the “amazing” support we provide to vision-impaired ex-Service men and women.

    Tommy & Mandy Sharpe

    Walking 100k is a gruelling challenge for anyone but unbelievably Tommy has only recently overcome blood cancer. Tommy was serving with the marines in Afghanistan five years ago when he suspected that there may be something wrong. He was diagnosed with stage 4 blood cancer in 2011 and given one year to live if treatment was not successful. He went on to receive chemotherapy every two weeks for six months while staying with his parents.

     

    Tommy says “My mum was a great source of support during this difficult time and we fought my disease together.”

     

    “I wanted to stay alive and stay in the Marines when I got better and to keep my basic fitness my mum and I went for long walks where we chatted about life”.

     

    The pair decided to take on the tough challenge of walking 100k for Blind Veterans UK after Tommy met several veterans supported by the charity when competing in the Invictus Games.

    Tommy & Prince Harry

    Tommy said “During my recovery I met many inspiring veterans and now I want to give something back to veterans who have to live the rest of their lives with sight loss.”

     

    “The support they provide is amazing and I know our participation and the money raised through the Blind Veterans UK 100k challenge will make a difference in the lives of blind veterans.”

     

    If you would like to donate to Tommy and Mandy as they walk a 100k for Blind Veterans UK, please visit justgiving.com/teams/hogandsprogcharitywalk.

     

    If you would like to sign up to walk alongside them, then you can sign up today by visiting blindveterans.org.uk/100k.

    Navy team complete gruelling Bahrain half marathon to raise more than £2,500 for Blind Veterans UK

    A sporty group of Navy sailors have raised an incredible £2,500 for Blind Veterans UK after comp leting the Bahrain half marathon.

    Bahrain marathon

    The group of twenty sailors from HMS Ramsey ran the Bahrain half marathon in the searing heat to raise money for our charity.

    One of the group members Emma Whitty decided to take on this big challenge after her father, who served in the Royal Navy, had two serious eye operations last year.

    She says “At the time I wasn’t aware of Blind Veterans UK but it’s great to know the charity would be there for him if his eyesight deteriorates. Any help if the worst should happen would be a blessing. I’m happy to be helping a just cause.”

    Emma managed to complete the half marathon in an impressive 2 hours and 38 minutes.

    She says “It was a challenge and something I’ve never done before and probably will never get the opportunity to do again.”

    “Though the conditions were difficult to run in I am proud of myself for the time I completed it in. Especially with little training due to a busy work schedule.”

    On raising more than £2,500 Emma says: “The total amount still seems to be growing every day and I am incredibly thankful for everyone’s generosity.”

    Bahrain marathon 2

    Another fellow runner and sailor Lee Freeman, completed the half marathon in 2 hours and 15 minutes.

    Lee says: “I was really pleased when Leighton put the idea across as it’s a good way to raise money for a great charity. It is a real honour to fundraise for Blind Veterans UK – it gives me the opportunity to give back to the men and women who served for our country before me.”

    Describing the run Lee comments: “most of the half marathon went really well for me until I got to the last mile and suffered cramps in my thigh which slowed my pace down.”

    “However, my determination to complete the race kept me moving forward and across the finish line.”

    “It’s great that so many people have donated and have been so generous as the money will go to a great cause.”

    To if you would like to sponsor Emma, Lee and the rest of the HMS Ramsey crew please visit www.justgiving.com/BahrainHalfMarathon

    Are you interested in becoming part of the Blind Veterans UK running team? We have several running events this year including the London Marathon and the Great North Run.

    For more information head to our running events page: http://www.blindveterans.org.uk/how-you-can-help/events/running/

     

    Jan 100k training tips by Mark Sullivan, Senior Lecturer in Sport, Exercise & Health

    Happy New Year, albeit belatedly.

    Hope you all had a great holiday and did loads of training.  I managed a bit, even getting out for a run on Christmas Day.  Main reason being I could then feel all good about myself and relax for the rest of it.

    Now I am betting that a few of you have made New Year’s resolutions to get fitter, especially if you have signed up for one or more of the 100km challenges.  But, like a lot of people not done much about it until now.

    That is normal and that’s why I saved writing this until now.  The best way to do this is to look at the date of when your big challenge is, either June for Yorkshire or July for London to Brighton.  Then break the period between now and then into smaller chunks.  This was instead of starting now thinking how hard 100km is going to be you look at a smaller challenge.  An example could be:

     

    End of February: Walk/run for 4 hours non-stop

    End of March: Walk/run for 8 hours

    End of April: walk/run for 12 hours.

    End of May: walk/run for 16 hours.

     

    This is simply breaking your final, long-term goal into smaller bite size ones.  Much easier to get your head round and easy, both physically and mentally to do.  Why am I saying run as well as walk.  Well some of you mad people might be running it!  But also because the change from running to walking will help your body get fitter quicker and will make sure all your muscles and joints are working through the full range of movement.  But it is really up to you.

     

    The great thing about this time of year is that the mornings are getting brighter (honest) and it feels great once you get going to suddenly think, I am doing this and it is going to not only make me fitter, healthier and happier but it will make a HUGE difference to people I have never met who rely on the charity for support.

     

    Now for the bad words, sponsorship.  A great way to do this is not to tell people you are doing 100km for Blind Veterans, that would be too easy.  Work out (approximately will do honest) how far you will have to walk/run in training and then add this to the 100km you will do at the end.  Then ask them to sponsor you over that whole distance.  I did this once for a marathon and worked out they were sponsoring me to do over 350miles, including the marathon.  Makes them see how much work you are putting into the event!

     

    Last quick point.  People will start looking at food/diet etc as the distances increase.  At this time let’s just get us out there doing it.  Food wise, just ‘get it down your neck’.  Your body will need fuel after each training walk so get it in there.  Protein for recovery and carbs for loading.  If you want to save money then I recommend watching episode 1 of a BBC TV series called ‘Trust me I am a Doctor’.

     

    Keep in touch and see you on the start line.

    Don’t stop training because it’s December! By Mark Sullivan

    Mark Sullivan Senior Lecturer in Sport, Exercise & Health  has taken on the Blind Veterans UK 100k challenge many times and he shares his training tips for December in his latest blog!

    I got an envelope through the post from Blind Veterans UK so there is def no going back now!  What an odd period the last month has been.  I planned to run the 10 miler in about 85 minutes (based on my one 9 mile training run) and actually finished in 79 minutes!  Then I ran a 10 km race about two weeks ago and did over 50 minutes for it!  What is going on with my running I have no idea.  I am pushing recruitment in my twice weekly circuit class for the Yorkshire event which means I def have to keep up the effort.  Can’t afford to be shown up by people I teach!

     

    Now it is finally starting to feel like winter it is too easy to sit down in a nice warm room, put your feet up and think about doing some training!  DON’T.  Now is the best time to get started on your plan. 

    Because if you can get out there and do something when the weather is awful just think how much easier it will be once the weather improves (about a week before the Yorkshire event knowing the UK!).  Always remember that skin is waterproof although that is no excuse for going out without clothes on.  Also if you start doing stuff now you will feel so much better over the Christmas period when we all eat and drink a bit too much.

    A brilliant idea is to go out on Christmas day for a walk/run.  Just for an hour while the turkey is cooking, but think how good you will feel instead of spending the whole day indoors.

     

    So although you can wait until the New Year to start training for your event I would say don’t.  Get out there in the cold and damp and realise just why you are doing it, maybe even get a family member to join you.  You will feel better, fitter and healthier by the holidays.  You will also be able to start the New Year with confidence that you are going to smash the event and bring much needed funds to the Charity and even more health benefits to you and might encourage others to join you.

     

    Someone much more famous than myself once said that we climb mountains not because they are there but because we are.  Enjoy the holidays and have a great New Year.  I am so looking forward to marking assessments in the New Year so the training will help me cope with that as well as get ready for the walk(s).

     

    If you fancy signing up, hurry as our winter early bird offer ends in December click here to find out more. If you’re already signed up we’d be delighted to hear how your training is going tweet us @blindveterans with your photos!

    Former Service man from Swansea is tackling the London to Brighton 100k for Blind Veterans UK

    In July next year former Service man, Evan Goodman, will be tackling the 100k walk from London to Brighton, raising money for Blind Veterans UK.

    Having reached the age of 50, Evan decided to give himself a real challenge and wanted to push himself physically. He also wanted to draw attention to the work our charity does and as someone that is ex-Forces, he said he feels incredibly “passionate about fundraising for a military charity.”

    The former Royal Engineers Staff Sergeant from Swansea will be doing the walk with a former colleague and a friend, and he aims to finish the walk in just 20 hours.

    He told us: “I generally try to keep fit and love to ride my mountain bike and go for walks when I get up to the lakes. I’ve also run a few half marathons – the last one was the Swansea half marathon for Blind Veterans UK. This time I want to go bigger and better to attract as much attention as I can for the charity.”

    Speaking of the reason why he signed up, Evan said “While I don’t know anyone personally who served and suffers from vision-impairment, I know the charity does amazing work to support veterans to live independently with sight loss.”

    “I’m really looking forward to it. It’ll be great to push myself while at the same time do some good for charity.”

    To support Evan as he takes on the 100k walk from London to Brighton, please visit: www.justgiving.com/Ev-Goodman.

    To find out more about the 100k challenge and sign up, visit our website.

    Evan Goodman

    Adventure Week

    Last week, eight daring veterans descended on the Llandudno centre for a week of challenges and adventure. The Blind Veterans UK adventure week takes full advantage of the stunning and dramatic scenery for a week of activities including abseiling, canoeing, high ropes, climbing and even skiing!

    On Monday, the veterans were transported back to their military experience with field crafts. It was a great way to get to know each other through outdoor activities, building shelters and making fires – the group even made a video diary to document their experience. In the afternoon, the group went for a sailing experience in Angelsey.

    The first day of the week was relatively restful compared to what else was in store! On Tuesday the Senior Management Team of the Llandudno centre got in on the action. The morning saw the group abseiling and climbing around the breathtaking Llanberis area at the foot of Mount Snowdon. The addition of extra staff members meant that more veterans could climb at the same time.

    Adventure Week 2snip

    The afternoon was a real test – the veterans canoed in very chilly water, with temperatures of just 5 degrees. Nevertheless, there were smiles all round. In the evening, the group enjoyed a well earned dinner.

    Adventure Week 4snip]

    Wednesday held an activity which would intimidate even the most daring! The group visited an activity centre named Tree Tops for a morning of high ropes. With heights of 50 to 60 foot, the challenge was just as much for the guides who could more clearly see how far away the ground was! Activities such as this show how important skilled sighted guiding is, at these heights members must put their complete trust in their guide.

    Adventure Week 7 snip

    The real highlight of the week was skiing! The group didn’t scale Mount Snowdon but instead visited indoor ski centre Chill Factor. With great support from organisation Disability Sports UK, less experienced skiers received fantastic instruction and it inspired activity week participant Stephen Thomas to join the Blind Veterans UK skiing club. Activities Team Leader Mark was pleased to be joined by experienced skier and blind veteran Chris Francis that week, as they took full advantage of the slopes, doing some ambitious skiing and showing the group how it’s done! The day did not end there though, in the afternoon the group visited Air Kicks, an indoor skydiving centre. Air is blown into a huge cylinder to mimic the experience of skydiving.

    Sight loss can mean a loss of confidence for even the most simple tasks such as moving around your house or going outside; Adventure Week demonstrates the great leaps and bounds taken by blind veterans, their bravery to try out these new and daring activities is really inspiring.

    Adventure Week 6snip

    A particular veteran who felt a real transformation throughout the week was Chris Francis. He travelled from Suffolk to North Wales for the adventure week with high hopes for not just new experiences but rediscovery too.

    Chris had made his living from his physicality, he joined the RAF as a Physical Training Instructor and then as a qualified parachutist he joing the RAF parachute display team. When Chris left RAF he set up a parachute school, teaching all over the world. He continued to have a very physical job when he joined the Metropolican Police and still taught parachuting in his spare time.

    “When I lost my sight, I lost who I thought I was”

    But Chris’s experiences at adventure week have helped him reaffirm himself.

    “You come away from the week thinking – yes, I am the person I always thought I was. There’s no use hiding, you just have to jump straight in!”

    Watch Chris speaking more about his experience at Adventure Week here.

    If you know of someone eligible for our support and who could benefit from our services, please visit www.noonealone.org.uk for more information or call free 0800 389 7979.

    The next object revealed in our 100 objects collection

    At the start of 2015 we launched our 100 objects project to celebrate our 100th birthday.  As a part of this we are delving into 100 objects that together tell the story of our charity from 1915 right through to the present day.

    The object we’re unveiling is blind veteran Billy’s motorbike. In 2003, Billy trained to take on the world record to be the Fastest Blind Man on a Motorbike! He broke the Guinness World Record by 24 mph and was recorded as the fastest blind man on a motorbike travelling at an incredible speed of 165 mph.

     

    Billy Baxter on his motorbike

    Billy Baxter on his motorbike

     

    Former Staff Sergeant Billy was serving in Bosnia with the 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery when he was left blinded in 1997 as a result of a virus. Billy had to accept his blindness and adjust to life without sight, however, his journey to rebuild his life was not easy. He became extremely bitter and depressed with what happened.
    Shortly before Billy was discharged from the Army, his wife Karen found out about Blind Veterans UK, but Billy refused to get in touch. Billy reflects, “If it hadn’t been for Karen and Blind Veterans UK I would not have the great life I have now.”
    With extensive help and support, Billy overcame his own battle with sight loss and went on to undertake a multitude of adventures including his record breaking speed. Blind Veterans UK has been with him, and his family, every step of the way.
    Billy now works as the Rehabilitation & Training Liaison Officer at Blind Veterans UK’s Llandudno centre and is the first blind town crier in Llandudno since 1862. Billy is a real inspiration to everyone who meets him and continues to surprise us.

    Want to see what else we have revealed? Visit our 100 objects page.