Having taken a different route last year, due to you know what, the world-famous London Marathon is back in it’s intended form. This year we’re thrilled to have Team LHON take on the challenge for us.
Who are Team LHON?
Team LHON are five young London-based friends who were brought together 10 years ago by a rare condition called Lebers Hereditary Optic Neuropathy which is a condition that causes young people to rapidly lose their sight over a matter of weeks. There is no known cure, and they were registered blind within six weeks of the onset of any symptoms.
Despite the challenges they all faced, especially in the workplace, they haven’t let sight loss define them.
We hear from three of Team LHON’s members: Michael, Matthew and Ian* about what running means to them and why they’re joining our 18-person-strong marathon team.
This’ll be Michael’s fifth marathon, having taken on the London Marathon once before as well as Amsterdam, Dublin and New York! Michael has been running for nearly 12 years, and ever since he lost his sight at 18 years old. A teacher at school suggested running would be a great way to channel some of the emotions he was experiencing at the time. With that teacher as his guide, they would run the streets of London a few times per week.
Michael said: “I do a great amount of thinking when running, and I feel it’s very good for general mental wellbeing. When you are pounding the streets or a treadmill, you can compartmentalize aspects of your life and think about different projects and personal matters. Running has been a great source of help and inspiration for me over the years.”
“The Vision Foundation’s work was instrumental in my rehabilitation from sight loss over a decade ago and despite advances in medical treatment and care, there are still thousands of people losing their sight on a yearly basis in the UK, so the awareness raising, employment assistance and general lobbying is so important for the lived experiences of those with a visual impairment.”
At the Vision Foundation we know that there’s too much focus on what people with sight loss can’t do, and not enough focus on what they can do. In Michael’s words: “Running is one of those endeavors where the experience from running with sight to running without, hasn’t really changed in my opinion. There is no part of sight loss that makes you a lesser runner so I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed pushing myself and I think people have always respected that.”
Matthew has been running on and off for a few years but this year’s marathon will be his first and longest running challenge yet.
Matthew said: “Running makes me feel free and allows me to forget about a lot of the barriers that I experience on a daily basis due to my visual impairment. Running also helps massively with mental health, if I’m having a day where I feel particularly low then I can go for a run in the evening and get an instant lift from the sense of achievement.”
Having lost the majority of his sight in 2013, he has personally experienced many challenges that blind and partially sighted people face, particularly in the workplace. Matthew received a lot of support from Blind in Business (one of the benefactors of our Vision Fund) and witnessed first-hand the brilliant work they do in helping people with visual impairment into work.
An obstacle Matthew often faces is the misconception of his abilities. “I sometimes have to remind them (new colleagues or clients) that it is my eyes that don’t work not my brain!”
Ian has been training for the London Marathon since early 2019 and completed the virtual marathon in October last year during the pandemic.
Ian said: “Although I have previously done some running to keep fit, it has only been shorter distances and not on a regular basis. I find running quite challenging, both physically and mentally. However, it provides good thinking time and I always feel good once I’ve finished a run.”
Ian turned to Blind in Business when he lost his eyesight 13 years ago. They offered him significant support in finding employment. Ian is aware that Blind in Business are one of our Vision Fund beneficiaries and therefore is keen to support our work helping visually impaired people get into education and employment.
Ian wants to break down the misconceptions of what blind and partially sighted individuals can do. He believes the more exposure people have to blind individuals aiming to live as much of a ‘normal life’ as possible, the more it’ll help to remove misconceptions in the future. Whilst training, he’s encountered many people who expressed amazement that he can run despite his lack of sight! In his words: “Just because I have a lack of sight doesn’t mean my legs don’t work.”
We know that, just like us, you’ll be cheering them on every step of the way!
And finally, on a sillier note, we asked Team LHON about any obstacles they’ve encountered whilst out running. We should add that no dogs were harmed in the training of this year’s marathon!
Michael: “Whilst training recently, I didn’t see the lead of a dog which extended from an owner over 20 feet! I was running relatively quickly, and the owner started shrieking with terror as I approached the lead. I just skipped over it and muttered my apologies whilst the life of her dog thankfully remained intact.”
Matthew: “On one of our training runs we got distracted and my guide and best friend forgot that he was guiding me, the result was that I ended up running straight into a phone box. Thankfully there were no serious injuries!”
Ian: “There are probably many of me bumping into various posts or obstacles or close misses with pushchairs in parks. Most recently it would probably be the challenges in avoiding dog leads between a dog walker and the dog during my training on the Norfolk country lanes or waving to road signs thinking that they are people!”
*Daniel has deferred his place until 2023.
See My Skills
We’re breaking the cycle of unemployment for blind and partially sighted people. In order to better understand what factors contribute towards positive employment outcomes for blind and partially sighted people, we commissioned research from the University of Birmingham’s Department of Disability Inclusion and Special Needs. Based on the findings, we launched #SeeMySkills, a campaign calling for a united response from the public, private and charity sectors to level the employment playing field for blind and partially sighted people.
Our campaign highlights the barriers of sight loss unemployment, and how we can all break them down.