A blind veteran from Conwy is currently training to complete a three day Iceland trek with Blind Veterans UK, the national charity for blind and vision-impaired ex-Service men and women, and The Not Forgotten Association.
Amazingly, Steve Thomas, 45 and from Llanrwst, was entered into the challenge, which has been arranged by The Not Forgotten Association, unknowingly. Steve explains “The Rehabilitation and Training Manager from the charity’s Llandudno centre put my name in the hat without me even knowing!
“Out of the blue, he told me that I’d been picked as one of the lucky few. I thought, ‘right then, time to get training!’”
Steve will be taking on the 14-mile per day trek, funded by Help for Heroes, with fellow blind veteran, Mark Threadgold. The route will see the veterans begin in Landmannalaugar, crossing through Álftavatn and Emstrur before eventually finishing in Reykjavik.
While Steve has competed in a number of challenges since joining the charity in 2012, this is the first time he’ll have faced a task of this variety. He says: “I took part in the 100k Yorkshire challenge this year, a 100km walk through the night across the Yorkshire Dales. This trek will be an entirely different challenge though, we’ll be camping overnight and there’ll be a slightly slower pace, just stretched over a longer period of time.
“I’m looking forward to it. Iceland is a fascinating place, the kind of place lots of people want to go to so I’m really pleased to get the opportunity!”
After leaving school at the age of 16, Steve went straight into the Army, joining the Royal Signals on 26 May 1988. His Service saw him tour the UK, including Northern Ireland as well as Germany as a driver linesman, before eventually discharging as a Signalman on 16 Nov 1992. Upon his return to civilian life, Steve worked in various security and delivery jobs, before later retraining as a roofer.
Unfortunately for Steve, he began experiencing issues with his sight in 1993 due to macular edema, which affected his central vision. Then, in 2001, he was diagnosed with retinis pigmentosa, which, amongst other things, renders Steve completely blind at night. Despite this, he was determined not to let his sight loss affect his life. Steve explains: “I actually carried on working until September 2009. I didn’t like to let it get to me. It was a slow process, which meant I had the chance to get on with my life and figure out how to adjust to the change. That’s not to say it wasn’t a shock for me though, or my family.”
Steve first came across Blind Veterans UK, which provides free lifelong support to veterans who have lost their sight, in 2010, before later joining in 2012. He explains: “At first I didn’t think I was eligible. My sight loss is not related to my Service. I later found out that the charity supports both war blinded and non-war blinded veterans, and that’s when I joined.
“The whole experience has been great. When I had to leave my job, my confidence was very low. I wouldn’t use local transport or anything like that, I’d have to depend on my wife quite heavily just to get around.
“Blind Veterans UK is a fantastic organisation in that sense. They’ve given me the confidence to do more for myself, rather than being dependant. They’ve helped me get on with my life and deal with my disability. It’s been great for both mine and my family’s life. Not only that, but the comradeship is brilliant. It’s just like being back in the army so it’s familiar. It’s encouraging.”
For now, Steve is focusing on getting his fitness in order, spending over an hour a day exercising and making sure he’s ready for any other surprise physical challenges that are sent his way!
Blind Veterans UK was founded in 1915 and the charity’s initial purpose was to help and support soldiers blinded in the First World War. But the organisation has gone on to support more than 35,000 blind veterans and their families, spanning WWII to recent conflicts including Iraq and Afghanistan. They have set the ambitious target to double the number of veterans receiving its life changing support to over 8,000 by 2022.
For more than a century, the charity has been providing vital free training, rehabilitation, equipment and emotional support to blind and vision-impaired veterans no matter when they served or how they lost their sight. Visit blindveterans.org.uk/support to learn more about the charity and how you can support its vital work today.
For all media enquiries please contact: Felix Arbenz-Caines, PR Assistant, Blind Veterans UK, 12 – 14 Harcourt Street, London, W1H 4HD, E: Felix.Arbenz-Caines@blindveterans.org.uk, T: 020 7616 7941
Notes to Editor
Blind Veterans UK
Blind Veterans UK is a national charity that believes that no-one who has served our country should have to battle blindness alone. Founded in 1915, the charity provides blind and vision impaired ex-Service men and women with lifelong support including welfare support, rehabilitation, training, residential and respite care.