Dalkeith Veteran with vision impairment gets ready for sixth London Marathon

Press Release | 10/04/2019

A Dalkeith veteran with sight loss is encouraging others with a vision impairment to take up sport as he gears up to run the London Marathon for the sixth time.

Long-distance athlete Steven Waterston, 46, has run with a long cane since his significant sight loss which resulted from life-saving surgery.

After overcoming a first brain haemorrhage in 2003, Steven was diagnosed with congenital condition Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) – in which high pressure arteries are connected to low pressure veins, risking rupture.

A second bleed in August 2008 – just after Steven completed his first double marathon effort in London and Edinburgh – led to the former army chef taking the tough decision to undergo high risk surgery in February 2009 to minimise future bleeds.

The procedure left him completely blind in his left visual field with reduced vision and processing in his right visual field, and resulted in paralysis on his left side.

A turbulent recovery process which also saw him suffer numerous blood clots, including a clot in his lung, and pneumonia, makes the fact that Steven ran the Loch Ness marathon just eight months after his operation even more incredible.

Steven said: “After my first bleed in 2003, running was like a coping mechanism. At that time I wanted to focus and have a goal to achieve. I wanted to prove my level of fitness. I really, really enjoyed it.

“There’s always something positive you can take out of a race. I’ve always been competitive and I was always intrigued by marathons – every year I’d watch London, and I always knew one day I’d get to a marathon.”

Following his major operation, the life-long runner says there was nothing more “normal” than for him to push for the starting line once again.

But his vision impairment meant there were many new factors to adapt to as he got back into training.   

He said: “It was quite bizarre – things just appeared from nowhere and I couldn’t figure it out. It took me a while to figure out there were lots of things I wasn’t seeing.

“To begin with I didn’t have a long cane, I had a white walking stick. The first time I went out, I went out for a small walk. It was fine, but because I wasn’t used to my sight I kept walking into people.

“It was scary because it sends a message back to you saying you’re not the way you used to be.”

Wishing to push himself further, Steven began to experiment in running with different canes – first with an indicator cane, and then with a long cane with a roller end.

“It does slow me down– there’s a degree of trading off there,” explained Steven.

“I have to concentrate a lot more on everything going on around me when I’m running. At the same time as everything else you’re always planning where the next pit fall’s going to be – a lamp post, for example.

“The biggest factor is people: drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. The cane identifies me as being a visually impaired person when I’m running and because I don’t always see somebody they might take measures themselves not to smash into me.

“It’s really useful when I’m crossing roads. Drivers are a bit more accepting if you’re crossing the road and you’ve got the cane.

“The Loch Ness Marathon in 2009 was my first marathon with a cane, and first – and only – with my wife, Lynn. It was a milestone reached.

““My race technique has changed now – I used to race from the back, but because of my sight loss now I can’t do that because there’ll be too many people to overtake, so I get to the front and those who are faster than me will have to overtake me.

“Looking at it, I suppose it is unusual, but at home what I do is normal. When you tell people, you can see on their face, figuring out if it’s true or not true.”

Now holding the UK Number One T38 Para Athlete titles for both marathon and half marathon distances, Steven has not only overcome physical and emotional challenges as a result of his illness and sight loss.

Medically discharged from the army in 2011 and faced with restricted employment opportunities due to his vision impairment, Steven’s determination has led to an ever-flourishing career in sports and fitness.

Alongside his coaching and officiating roles at Edinburgh Athletics Club, the qualified advanced personal trainer and sports therapist has also recently set up his own sports massage therapy business in Dalkeith: SW Sports Massage Therapy.

Steven says charity Scottish War Blinded supported him on his career path, giving him the opportunity to complete his work placements at the Linburn Centre in West Lothian. 

Steven said: “With my sight loss I couldn’t get a placement, so Scottish War Blinded, with their gym at the Linburn Centre and membership, provided me with that outlet to work with the staff and veterans and go and do these things for my HND in Sports Coaching and Fitness.

“I may not exactly see what other people see, but I’ve got good senses in other ways.

“I’ve got Highers in Human Biology, I’ve done vocational training and I’ve spent enough time in physio myself, so I know the body inside out and upside down.

“It’s good to have something in your life that gives you that sense of purpose.”

A Scottish War Blinded member for ten years, Steven also receives practical and emotional support from his outreach worker Dawn Smith.

After suffering a leg break last year, the charity also helped Steven keep his fitness up for London this April by providing reflective tape for his crutches, cane attachments, and use of the Linburn Centre gym.

With his race tally still clocking up, an ultra-marathon under his belt, and an undisclosed target of how many marathons he’d like to complete ultimately, the sportsman is encouraging others with sight loss to have the confidence to give sport and exercise a go.

And he hopes that by hearing his story, others with sight loss who are unsure about how to get active can feel reassured that anything is possible.

“Don’t dis-count anything, keep open minded and go give it a try,” Steven said.

“You don’t have to be expected to be UK number one. Try it, see it how it is and give yourself the chance, because other things come from sport – not just holding records. There are huge social, mental and physical benefits, too.

“Get in touch with organisations like Scottish War Blinded who have people who know governing bodies. If you’ve got an affiliation for a particular sport, one of the governing bodies is probably the place to ask for more detailed information on what’s around in your area.”

Scottish War Blinded support former servicemen and women with a vision impairment, no matter how or when they lost their sight. Call 0800 035 6409 to refer a veteran to the charity.

For more information on SW Sports Therapy Massage, call 07505 270099 or email sw@swsportsmassagetherapy.co.uk