‘Blind Dave’ Hee­ley

A re­mark­able run­ner and an in­cred­i­ble fundraiser

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents -

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.

WHAT’S NEXT? Dave loves to test him­self; (in­set) with guide Tony


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