Why this Leyland grandfather who went partially blind is taking on the Andes Mountains
A Leyland grandfather who partially lost his eyesight is taking on the Andes Mountains in support of a good cause.
James Coulton, an outdoor activities and audio services coordinator for Lancashire charity Galloway's Society For the Blind, is raising £3,850 for a five-day trek to Machu Picchu in Peru.
James, who will complete the gruelling Inca Trail next October in aid of Galloway's, believes travelling can empower people who are partially or totally blind.
The 50-year-old granddad-of-two said: "I'm excited about it as I've always looked at doing treks like this before my sight went but I never got round to it.
"I think you've got two choices and now for me it's to get out there and do it.
"Lots of people think you wouldn't be able to do something like this but with the right help and support you can and it's a great feeling.
"If you don't get out there then you have to rely on others. It's a big leap but if you do things on your own it's empowering as it increases both your confidence and independence.
"As part of my job, I've taken people with sight loss to Cumbria where they've kayaked across Coniston Water and they've told me it's given them the confidence to go on the bus and go into town."
James always had reasonably good eyesight until the age of 17-18 when he had a cataracts operation.
In 2000 one of his retinas - the thin layer at the back of your eye - became loose and surgeons performed three surgeries in an attempt to reattach it. But they were unsuccessful, leaving one eye shrunken, opaque and unable to detect light.
That same year, he also developed glaucoma in the other eye and cells in his cornea began falling apart. Glaucoma is a common condition where the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain, becomes damaged.
It's usually caused by fluid building up in the front part of the eye, which increases pressure inside it, and does not tend to have any warning signs. However, the condition can lead to blindness if not diagnosed and treated early.
James experienced very high eye pressure of around 40 mm Hg (this is around 8 to 12 mm Hg for normal, healthy eyes) and used eyes drops and a tube implant to help reduce it.
He also suffered from blisters on the surface of the eye.
"When they popped every time I blinked, it was like pins poking my eyes. It was very painful," he said.
"And my vision was very foggy, like looking out of a steamed up car window that couldn’t be cleared."
Glaucoma left him without any vision in his right side and he can see only see vague colours and shapes through the left.
Once an avid driver and lover of the outdoors, James was devastated when he was registered partially blind in November 2002 and thought his identity had changed forever.
"Losing my sight massively impacted me - it's a bit like the bereavement process," he said.
"You have all the same feelings, like anger and guilt, as when you lose someone close to you. I didn't want to do anything at first but stay in and listen to the radio.
"A big part of my life was driving. I loved driving everywhere so losing the ability to do that was a shock to the system."
Encouraged by his parents, he decided to reach out to Galloway's, which helped to reignite his love of walking.
Four years ago, James also had a cornea transplant to help ease the pain and discomfort and make his vision slightly clearer.
"I went on a residential trip and watched a lad who is totally blind go up a climbing wall. I thought, 'If he can do it, then I'm going to give it a go too,'" he said.
"And from there I went from strength to strength and began volunteering for the charity before working for them full-time.
"Now I do water-sports like canoeing and kayaking, and as part of my job I organise activities such as archery, sailing, indoor cricket, golf and race track driving."
James, who uses a white stick, binoculars, a hand-held magnifier and smart phone apps to help him navigate long-distance walks, has also completed the Yorkshire Three Peaks in 15 hours with the help of two qualified mountain instructors.
Today the determined fund-raiser, who's worked for the charity for the past six years, also running the Galloway Talking Newspaper, is a totally different person to the one who had no motivation to do anything but stay indoors watching TV, back in 2012.
He added: "I've seen on a daily basis how much people have come along on their sight loss journey and without Galloway's, I've no idea what I'd be doing.
"So if I can pass on some of that confidence and independence I've gained to other people, I think that's a wonderful thing to be able to do. It's amazing what people can do with the right help and support."
The charity is hosting an AGM and conference, Journeys Through Sight Loss, on Thursday, November 28 from 9-30am to 4pm at Leyland Civic Centre.
This inspiring event will explore the ways independent travel can empower people living with visual impairments. It will include talks by TedX speaker and BBC documentary maker Tony Giles, AKA The Blind Traveller, and disability rights activist Dr Amit Patel, also known as The Blind Dad.
There will also be stalls providing free practical information and advice about travel equipment and technology.
To book contact 01772 744 148 or [email protected], for more information visit www.galloways.org.uk and to make a donation to James' mission, please log on to https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=JamesCoulton_TrekPeru2020&pageUrl=2