An Aberdeen navy veteran whose sight loss left him housebound has conquered two Munros – while raising money for charity.
John Mitchell, who is 57, was diagnosed with the eye condition macular degeneration and cataracts in his early 40s.
He was medically discharged from the Royal Navy’s Royal Fleet Auxiliary in 2011 following the diagnosis, after more than a decade of service. His deteriorating sight also led to the loss of his later job as a cleaner in 2017.
John, who is a keen walker, lost confidence in going outside after limited sight and double vision took its toll on his mental health.
However, after receiving long cane training from city-based charity North East Sensory Services (NESS), and taking part in Scottish War Blinded’s group walks, he decided to take on the challenge of walking two Munros. He completed the task alongside his wife, Janet, and three of his friends in aid of the two charities that helped him.
John said: “I felt great completing the challenge. It was hard, especially once the weather started off, and coming back I was in bits, but once I got back into town, I felt great.
“Walking with my long cane was a challenge because of the rain as well, but I think I coped pretty well along with the support of my wife and my friends as well.”
John, of Aberdeen, said he had found his condition difficult to cope with at home. He said: “My eyes were getting worse and I panicked. I kept on thinking: ‘I want to go out,’ but the thought of getting from A to B made me lose my nerve.
“I didn’t have the confidence to go out. I just gave up.
“I told myself I needed to do something because I didn’t feel safe leaving the house.
“That was when I decided that I needed the long cane training.”
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Around six months ago, he began working with rehabilitation workers at NESS, who helped him to become accustomed to using his long cane – which he nicknamed Harry!
Following John’s new-found confidence, the group walked the nine-mile distance across Munros Mayar and Driesh, raising £1,000 in the process.
He added: “Before I got the cane, one of the fear factors had been embarrassment.
“I didn’t want to be seen with it because I thought I’d have a stigma attached to me.
“There were 100,000 thoughts going through my head.
“It took me a while to realise that it’s me I have to think about and not other people.
“Now I do what I have to do. I’m still me – it just so happens I have a new pal.”
Rebecca Barr, director of Scottish War Blinded, said: “Huge congratulations to John for conquering this walking challenge. We’re honoured and thankful that he chose to fundraise for Scottish War Blinded.
“We’re delighted that John was able to put his training from NESS into practice through our Aberdeen walking group for our veterans with sight loss with the support of his fellow veterans and our outreach service.
“Many of our veterans, like John, are rediscovering confidence and regaining significant levels of their independence through our community. His inspirational story shows that, with the right support, so much is still possible despite sight loss.”
Graham Findlay, Chief Executive Officer at NESS, added: “We are delighted that John and many others have benefited from the support of our highly trained staff.
“Our services and support do give our service users the skills to remain independent.”