Blind veteran to walk 100k from Fulham to Brighton for charity that gave him new lease of life

A blind veteran will walk 100k from south west London to Brighton to raise money for the charity that inspired him to live an active lifestyle after losing his eyesight. 

John Evans, 61, from Talaton, will join volunteers and veteran servicemen on July 2 for a 62 mile walk with Blind Veterans UK.

The veterans begin at the Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation near Stamford Bridge and their first stop along the route is Tooting and Mitcham Community Sports Club.

In 1999, John was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa which has no cure.

The condition affected him mentally, as well as physically, and he felt he was no longer able to carry out an active lifestyle.

He said: “It had gone beyond the stage where I could drive anymore so that meant all of a sudden I couldn’t travel the length and breadth of the country.

“You’re just sat at home on your own and you end up feeling a bit what some people might describe as depressed or feeling a bit pissed off about life in general.”

John’s career in the RAF meant he was extremely active and busy and the fact he was constantly able to help people made losing his sight even harder to come to terms with.

He was an aircraft engineer and his primary responsibility in the military was to repair damaged aeroplane frames.

However, during the national firefighter’s strike of 1977, he was part of a group of serviceman asked to stand in for the absent firefighters.

This surprisingly led to John’s career highlight, in which he helped save a one-year-old child from the wreckage of a car that had been involved in a fatal crash.

He said: “Because we were engineers we were on standby as we could use cutting equipment.

“We were called to one incident where the driver of the car was dead at the scene and we were basically just there to recover the body.

“But while on the job we heard the daughter crying; she was stuck in the foot well and the car had collapsed around her.

“It was a real team job; the escort policeman asked everyone to be quiet, dived back in and rescued the little girl.

“Unfortunately her Mum didn’t survive but the little girl did.

“It’s one of those things that while working in the military sticks in my mind as a real highlight.”

John kept up with the service by occasionally reading RAF news, a fortnightly newspaper.

This was where he discovered Blind Veterans UK, in a one paragraph advert at the bottom of a page. He was sceptical at first but decided to get in touch.

The charity replied instantly and has been a great help ever since, giving John the motivation to re-establish his active lifestyle.

He said: “One of the things they had was a very good gymnasium staffed with very good people.

“That is something I hadn’t even dreamt about, going to a gym and getting fit.

“They sort of kicked me off on that route again because I was pretty active while I was in the service.

“I can’t go running like I used to because you approach things too quick. It’s more just walking, so when they mentioned the 100k, I thought sure, let’s have a go.”

And he did. The long walk from Fulham to Brighton will be the second time John has attempted the challenge for Blind Veterans UK after taking part last year.

He is now back in training for this year’s event and thanked his ‘fantastic’ guide Simon Lee Hebson for his help as a volunteer.

“I can do local walks, I have a guide dog and I take him out for exercise,” he said.

“We have known routes where we can practice but that is nowhere near the amount of exercise I need to do.

“You can’t make a dog walk different routes though, and nor can you expect them to do the distance we are talking about.

“I need a local guide to sacrifice a weekend and I’ve found a fantastic one in Simon, without him I couldn’t do it.

“It’s about getting my muscles built up to a level; we are doing cold weather training at the moment but hopefully it’ll get better in time for the event.

“Then we can shed all of these water proofs and extra equipment we have to use at the minute and we should feel a whole lot lighter on the day.

“I’m hoping for a bit of sunshine by then, if we ever get any!”

John believes that not being able to see the winding stretch of the River Thames in south west London might well work in his advantage.

He said: “With the loss of eyesight you sort of just throw a switch and follow your guide.

“They deal with all the features and obstacles and tell you about them along the way.

“Some people say being blind is an advantage when you’re doing a long haul walk like that because you can’t see the horizon.

“A long horizon screws with some people and we haven’t got that problem, we just put one foot in front of the other which is less disheartening I think.”

You can sponsor John on his JustGiving here.

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