My husband was diagnosed blind… so I took him skiing
We’d been back from our honeymoon for two weeks when James was diagnosed as sight impaired. Two years later he was classified as being severely sight impaired (formerly known as ‘blind’). James had worn glasses from the age of six, but despite telling the professionals he didn’t think he could see well, he was labelled instead as clumsy and and told he was fine.
James has rod-cone dystophy, a form of retinitis pigmentosa which is a genetic condition. In his case, he has extreme tunnel vision (less than 5 degrees); night blindness and cannot see moving objects. The reason his condition wasn’t picked up until he was nearly thirty is because no one had ever tested his peripheral vision. He doesn’t have any.
Fast forward a couple of years to 2015. It’s been a tough time adjusting to his disability, and we’ve both learnt more about the power a label has. Wanting some light relief, and an avid skier myself, I tentatively raised the possibility of going on a skiing holiday. We didn’t know if James would be able to ski, so compromised and organised a low cost package holiday to Arinsal in Andorra through Neilson. I mentioned when booking that my husband had sight issues, and was reassured when I found out that Marcus, the ski school manager, was trained in adaptive skiing.
James was nervous, but after watching us ski for a while, Marcus suggested I called out command words to James to help him. Seeing how these small actions helped James was wonderful to watch. I began hollering at the top of my lungs to James as we skied down the mountain… ‘LEFT’ — ‘RIGHT’ — ‘LEFT’ — ‘SLOW’ — ‘STOP’ — ‘STOP’ — ‘STOP YOU BASTARD!!!’
James slowly gained confidence, and I became more used to having a tail behind me on the slopes. With time and hindsight, we’ve realised that when skiing, James doesn’t see the edge of the piste; the snow; trees; other skiers or lift pylons. Hearing verbal commands as he follows me gives him the security and a sense of safety he’d never had before.
It wasn’t all easy; we’ve had our fair share of crashes and our marriage has survived primarily because we have a no blame policy on the mountain. As long as we can learn from our mistakes, we are happy. We’ve invested in our own skis and kit, and now use a fabulous BT Intercom bluetooth headset so that I don’t have to shout quite as loudly. With both of us able to speak into the microphone and hear each other through the ear piece, we ski in tandom faster and safer than ever before. Plus I can sing to James on the button lift.
Learning how to ski together has been revelatory for us. James is now often better than other skiers on the mountain, and he can experience the adrenalin of skiing fast (and even ski racing) just like anyone else. We don’t think he’ll lose his sight completely, but even if he does, he can still ski. He’s not disabled; he’s differently abled.
It’s been quite a journey together — and our journey isn’t even close to finishing. We now ski race for Great Britain and have our eyes set on the Beijing Paralympic Winter Games in 2022. We’ll keep you posted…