A blind veteran from Oxfordshire is training to compete in the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon for Blind Veterans UK, the national charity for vision-impaired ex-Service men and women, after it supported him following his sight loss.
Naz Niner, 40 and originally from the Isle of Wight, will be competing in the famous challenge, now in its tenth year, for the second time. He explains: “I’ve always liked to do as much sport as possible. When I started receiving support from the charity last year, they told me about all the challenges and events they get involved in. I was blown away and spoke to the gym staff about getting involved straight away.”
Aside from being an opportunity for Naz to push himself and take on the 13.1 mile route, last year’s event also took place alongside another significant event. He explains: “It actually fell on my 40th birthday which was great. My main goal for that birthday was always to do something big, something significant. So I was really pleased that this just happened to coincide with it!”
It was in 1998 when Naz’s military Service began. He joined the Royal Logistics Corps as a driver, where he served for seven years across a number of locations, including Sandhurst, Colchester and Kosovo. He received a NATO medal for his Service in the latter.
Unfortunately for Naz, in 2007 he realised his sight was fading. He explains: “I was working at Argos and I just kept on bumping into things, I had no idea why. I eventually went to the hospital and that’s when they told me I had glaucoma.
“Unfortunately it was too late to save my left eye, and as of right now I’ve got about 25% vision in my right, but that’s blurry and double vision. Getting around is a real challenge; the sight at the bottom of my eye is gone and that’s what leaves me bumping into things. At the moment I’m focusing on building my confidence to use a white stick.”
Naz began receiving the free lifelong support provided by Blind Veterans UK in late 2015 when a friend recommended the charity to him. He says: “I actually first came across them years ago, but my sight wasn’t so bad so it was more of a provisional interaction. When it had deteriorated significantly, someone got in touch and I went down to their training and rehabilitation centre in Brighton.
“The training there is fantastic, I took part in all sorts, IT mainly. They’re lovely people and we’re looked after very well indeed. I even took my youngest daughter there once. She enjoyed being there almost as much as the staff did meeting her!”
For Naz, the emotional support he has received has been just as important as the technical. He says: “The number of gadgets and pieces of equipment they’ve given me is obviously fantastic, but they’re also excellent listeners. Anytime I do go down, they’re so welcoming.
“It’s just nice knowing you have someone there if you need help.”
For now, Naz will be turning his attention to Sunday 8 October, for which he’s hoping to remain injury free in a bid to break his own record while soaking in the unique atmosphere. He explains: “Last year I actually pulled my calf the day before, so it was a bit of a struggle to get round. This year I’m looking forward to beating my previous time and getting closer to the two hour mark.
“Overall it’s just an incredible atmosphere. I love it. I sometimes get emotional with people cheering me on, even though they have no idea who I am!”
The Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon, which takes place on 8 October, is one of the most popular events in the UK, taking you through Hyde Park, Green Park, St James’s Park and Kensington Gardens. For a registration fee of £30 and a minimum sponsorship pledge of £300, participants can still sign up to run on behalf of Blind Veterans UK. Visit blindveterans.org.uk/royalparks to find out how you can get involved.
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.