Aberdeen veteran with sight loss conquers Munros with support from Scottish War Blinded and NESS

Press Release | 14/08/2019

An Aberdeen navy veteran whose sight loss had rendered him housebound has conquered two Munros for charity, celebrating his new-found confidence in walking with a long cane.

John Mitchell, 57, who has optic nerve damage and was diagnosed with eye condition macular degeneration and cataracts in his early forties, smashed the nine-mile distance across Mayer and Driesh in aid of charities Scottish War Blinded and North East Sensory Services (NESS).   

Medically discharged from the Royal Navy’s Royal Fleet Auxiliary in 2011 due to his diagnosis after over a decade of service, the former steward’s ailing sight eventually stopped him from working in his civilian job as a cleaner in 2017.

John’s battle with limited sight and double vision initially took its toll on his mental health, and the keen walker lost the confidence to even step outdoors. 

But after expert long cane training from NESS, and putting his training into action by participating in Scottish War Blinded’s Aberdeen group walks, John was spurred on to take on his very own walking challenge along with his wife Janet and three good friends.

John said: “I felt great completing the challenge. It was hard, especially once the weather started off and coming back I was in bits, but once I got back into town I felt great.

“Walking with my long cane was a challenge because of the rain as well, but I think I coped pretty well along with the support of my wife, Janet, and my friends as well.”

John began his long cane training with rehabilitation workers from NESS around six months ago.

 “My eyes were getting worse and I panicked. I kept on thinking ‘I want to go out’, but the thought of getting from A to B made me lose my nerve,” he explained.

“I didn’t have the confidence to go out. I just gave up. I told myself I needed to do something because I didn’t feel safe leaving the house. That was when I decided that I needed the long cane training.”

John’s confidence blossomed once more as he became accustomed to using a long cane – nicknamed ‘Harry’ – without fear.

The veteran has been a member of Scottish War Blinded – a charity supporting veterans with sight loss, no matter the cause – since 2016, and in May he bravely decided to take on the charity’s ‘500-Mile Challenge’, uniting with his fellow veterans with sight loss in Aberdeen to collectively clock up steps towards the distance.

Supported by Outreach Worker Ingrid Penny, John also attends his local Scottish War Blinded lunch group at Credo Café and says he finds it beneficial to socialise with others who are in the same boat, many of whom also use a long cane.

Now, after raising £1000 for charity through his Munro challenge, John has made huge leaps in overcoming his fears and regaining a big part of his independence.

John said: “From the first walking group with other Scottish War Blinded veterans, my confidence improved more and more.

“Before I got the cane, one of the fear factors had been embarrassment. I didn’t want to be seen with a cane because I thought I’d have a stigma attached to me. There were 100,000 thoughts going through my head.

“It took me a while to realise that it’s me I have to think about and not other people.

“Now I do what I have to do. I’m still me – it just so happens I have a new pal.”

Rebecca Barr, Director of Scottish War Blinded, said: “Huge congratulations to John for conquering this walking challenge. We’re honoured and thankful that he chose to fundraise for Scottish War Blinded.

“We’re delighted that John was able to put his training from NESS into practice through our Aberdeen walking group for our veterans with sight loss with the support of his fellow veterans and our outreach service.

“Many of our veterans, like John, are rediscovering confidence and regaining significant levels of their independence through our community. His inspirational story shows that with the right support, so much is still possible despite sight loss.”

Graham Findlay, Chief Executive Officer at NESS, said: “We are delighted that John and many others have benefitted from the support of our highly trained staff.  Our services and support do give our service users the skills to regain and remain independent.”

Scottish War Blinded gives free support to former servicemen and women of all ages, no matter if they lost their sight during or after service.

Visit www.scottishwarblinded.org or call 0800 035 6409 to refer a veteran to the charity.

NESS is the first fully integrated joint sensory service provider in Scotland.  It supports 6,500 people from Dundee to Moray who are living with significant sight and/or hearing loss.