How did you lose your sight?
I lost my sight 13 years ago, when I was 26 years old. I went to bed one night and when I woke up I couldn’t see out of my right eye. I lost sight in my left eye six weeks later. I went to see my doctor who didn’t know what it was, so they sent me to hospital where I had more tests, but they still didn’t know what it was.
I spent two weeks at King's College hospital which was pretty horrific. I was the youngest one in there by about 25 years and it was very, very scary; a lot of crying at night, people falling out of bed, people walking around and bumping into things. A specialist from America came over and told me that I had Leber's Optic Neuropathy and that there was nothing they could do. I just didn’t get it at the start and asked him about wearing glasses – I couldn’t get my head around the fact that I could go from being fine to having no sight in six weeks.
It must have been an incredibly difficult time for you.
Yes, it was a bit of a disaster. I was self-employed so I lost my job and the council filled in the wrong forms for me so my flat was repossessed and I had to move into a council flat; all this happened in the space of about three months. It took me about four years to come to terms with losing my sight. It was hard because I didn’t have anyone to blame – it wasn’t anyone’s fault, it just happened. The disease is incredibly rare; the odds of getting it are one in 20 million.
How did you decide to enter the fitness industry?
I always enjoyed being fit but after I became blind I had four years of what I call 'my wilderness years' – I smoked, drank and ate too much. I put on a lot of weight and didn’t care about my appearance. Then I got an acting job and needed to get in better shape, so I went to the gym with my nephew and realised that I missed being fit.
Having made the decision, what did you do next?
I went to a fitness association and they basically said that there was no way that I would be able to work in the fitness industry. I believed that I could do it and a charity called London Disability Forum got in touch and offered to fund me to complete the Level 2 Fitness Instructor course. I still had to convince a hell of a lot of people though.
Practically, how do you do things such as check on good technique?
I have an access worker, who effectively acts as my eyes. They have an idea about different movements but they’re not actually qualified. I ask them certain questions such as, "are their knees going over their toes?" and through a series of questions I can work out what their technique is like. I’ve built up a really good rapport and friendship with a lot of my clients.
You seem to be very passionate about being a PT?
Yeah, I really enjoy being active, interacting with people and helping them with their different goals – be that losing weight to get into a wedding dress, or just to feel better about themselves.
What are the main problems you’ve faced?
People judging me before they’ve even met me. Unfortunately, I have met a lot of ignorant people. A PT once said that if I was training in a club then it wouldn’t work because clients would feel they had been short-changed having a disabled person training them. It's other people’s interpretations of you – there were some people at a gym where I worked that I had to train before they accepted I was good.
What are your ambitions for the future?
People say that I should become a life coach and it’s something I’m thinking about. When I speak to clients and they find out some of the things that I have gone through and experienced it can help them to understand that, perhaps, some of their problems are easier to deal with than they might think.
This feature was first printed in the December/January 2012 issue of Fitpro Network magazine.