‘Blind Dave’ Heeley
A remarkable runner and an incredible fundraiser
Dave Heeley, 59, has never let blindness hold him back. He’s the only blind runner to run seven marathons on seven continents in seven days; he’s conquered the Marathon des Sables; and he’s raised more then £3 million for charity. His autobiography, From Light to Dark (Pitch), is out in paperback this month.
Were you a sporty child? I loved sport – football, crosscountry, athletics. I was the town 1500m champion for five years. But I did less as my sight deteriorated and I’d stopped by the time I was 16.
What impact did your sight loss have? I was quite a celebrity at school when diagnosed, aged 10, but as I reached my late teens and my friends were learning to drive, the true implications hit me hard.
Did you seek support? Not initially. I tried to conceal the problem. The turning point came when I fell down some roadworks. I underwent white cane training, started learning braille and did a taster day with a guide dog. It took me 12 minutes to complete a walk that normally took me over an hour – I was sold!
How did you get back into running? A friend, Roy, who had a place in the 2002 London Marathon, said he’d like to raise money for guide dogs. I said, ‘I’ll do it with you. You can be my guide.’ I didn’t even own running shoes, but a few months later I’d run the first of my 14 (and counting) London Marathons.
What’s it like to run with a guide? Each has their own style, but a guide who is confident leading instils the confidence for me to follow. My guides have become good mates. I was running with Tony [Ellis, pictured with Dave, below] recently and he said, ‘ You’re just as important to us as we are to you.’ You have to turn up, whatever the weather and you always have someone to talk to.
Does the wider running community do enough for visually impaired runners? It’s improving. Guide runners were rare when I started, now I have a selection. It takes time to build that up, though, and the initial step into the sighted world can be difficult. The Paralympics have made a big difference to public awareness and opened a lot of doors for a lot of people.
What’s the appeal of multi-day challenges? I’ve always had that drive for adventure. When I heard Sir Ranulph Fiennes talking about the ‘7 on 7 in 7’, I decided I wanted to do it. People said, ‘ You can’t do that Dave, you’re blind!’ That’s like a red rag to a bull.
Was it your toughest challenge to date? It was incredibly tough. On the penultimate day my calf was agony, but if I want to achieve something, I’ll do it by hook or by crook. There were some gruelling days on the Top2toe Challenge [running and cycling the 1000+ miles between John O’groats and Land’s End], when I was running – on four hours sleep – through some of the highest recorded rainfall in Scotland. But we raised £126,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support.
Did the book come easily? I’ve always recorded my adventures on tape and it was lovely to reflect. It seemed a great way to document my life for my three daughters. Sometimes I can’t quite believe it’s me between those covers.