A blind veteran who is terminally-ill has ticked a tandem skydive off his bucket list and raised over £3,000 for Blind Veterans UK, the national charity for vision-impaired ex-Service men and women.
Mark Pile, who is 58 and from Somerset, wanted to complete the parachute jump while he was still able.
On Sunday May 28, Mark was strapped to a tandem instructor and experienced a few seconds of free fall before the parachute was opened for the final glide back down to solid ground.
“The whole day was brilliant, I had fantastic weather and lots of friends, some who I hadn’t seen for over a year, came to support me.
“In the run up to the jump I became unwell with pneumonia but that didn’t stop me, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
“The experience was everything I could have hoped for, the instructor was my eyes and explained everything that he could see on the way down.
“The adrenaline certainly got me through and when the excitement wore off, the enormity of the adventure took its toll on my body, but it was worth it.”
Mark served in the Light Infantry between 1984 and 1993 as a bugler, a driver and a rifleman. During his nine years in Service, he spent time in Germany and Gibraltar.
It was in 2000 that Mark first noticed there was a problem with his sight.
“I was working as a driver at the time and realised I couldn’t tell where the side of the road was. I went to the opticians and the hospital and discovered I had amblyopia, which is a hereditary eye condition that causes a break down in how the brain and the eye work together.
“From then my eyesight gradually deteriorated and in 2011 I was registered blind. At that stage I had 15% sight remaining in one eye and nothing in the other.
“I took the news really badly and didn’t go out for ten years, I couldn’t see the point in living and was in a really dark place. I joined Blind Veterans UK in 2012 and that was the first time I had reached out and accepted help.
“Even then I reluctantly visited the charity’s Centre of Wellbeing in Brighton for my introduction week, I was still blaming the world for my sight loss.
“I credit the charity with saving my life, if it wasn’t for the fantastic support I’ve received I wouldn’t be here today. I can’t thank them enough.
“The charity helped me to realise there is life after sight loss. I began to accept blindness and the support I received from my peers and the staff was a huge thing for me and still is. You are never alone which is particularly important to me right now.
“The charity offers rehabilitation and helps you to rekindle old hobbies and interests or discover new ones. With the encouragement of staff at the Brighton Centre, I began to get more serious about photography and I got better and better.
“Along with a group of my fellow blind veterans, I helped to get the photography weeks up and running at the centres to pass on our experience to other veterans. I have helped to run these weeks and I have also photographed Blind Veterans UK events which has got me out and about. One of my fondest moments with the charity was photographing an event at the Tower of London, to be given that opportunity was such an honour.
“Staff at the charity also taught me to mount and frame my photographs and I now have a workshop in my garden.”
Mark approached Blind Veterans UK to see if the charity could help make his life-long ambition of completing a skydive a reality.
“I am so grateful for the opportunity to do this. It’s wonderful that the charity is still helping me at this stage in my life.
“Giving back is important to me; helping with the photography weeks and events used to be my way of paying back the charity that has helped me so much but I’m not able to do that anymore so this parachute jump has been my small way of saying thank you.
“I’ve been a member of Blind Veterans UK for 12 years; they gave me back my life when I was ready to throw in the towel and are supporting me right to the end to do things that I never thought I’d be able to do.
“I can’t thank people enough for helping me to raise such a wonderful amount of money already. Thank you isn’t enough, but I do thank each and every one of the people that has donated from the bottom of my heart.”
Mark had a video recorded on the day to capture his experience. To watch the video please visit: Terminally-ill veteran skydived from 8,000 feet – Blind Veterans UK
There is still time to help Mark boost his fundraising total; please visit his Just Giving page here: justgiving.com/page/markpilesskydive
Blind Veterans UK supports thousands of blind veterans across the country, but knows there are many thousands more who still need its support to rebuild their lives after sight loss.
If you, or someone you know, served in the Armed Forces, including National Service, and are now struggling with sight loss, then please get in touch. Call 0800 389 7979 or visit blindveterans.org.uk/support