Even with a disability, it’s possible to have an adventure

A smiling man stands in the woods with a sweeping view of the sky and trees behind him

My name is John Churcher and I have a condition called Usher Syndrome, which affects both my sight and hearing. This summer I’ll be walking 52 miles in 24 hours for Sense, because I want to show that even with a disability, it’s possible to have an adventure.

“My vision is like looking through a straw with frosted glass at the end”

A close up image of a smiling man in a blue climbing vest

I was born with hearing loss, and at the age of 14 I found out I also had Retinitis Pigmentosa, which means the cones and rods in my eyes are dying. I currently have 3% vision, 50% hearing loss, and wear two hearing aids.

The best way to describe what I can see, would be to say it’s like looking through a straw with frosted glass at the end. Having Ushers can make simple things pretty difficult, tiresome and also quite time consuming.

It also poses challenges around the home, because if people leave cupboard doors ajar, I can walk straight into them. Identifying tins of food can be a struggle, and having a guide dog who occasionally leaves toys around can be particularly hazardous.

From climbing mountains, to walking 52 miles in 24 hours

A man leads another man to walk across a rocky mountain landscape. They're tethered together and are wearing climbing helmets

In July 2015, I took the challenge of climbing the Eiger, in the Swiss Alps, guided by my friend Mark McGowan. And at the start of this year, he asked me if I’d like to do the RidgeWalk with him.

The RidgeWalk is a charity challenge for Sense, where I’ll be walking 52 miles in 24 hours across the RidgeWay in Oxforshire.

I’m always up for a challenge, so I was more than happy to say yes. I want to take on the RidgeWalk to show that even with a disability, it’s possible to have an adventure. I have been a member of Sense for 30 years and chose to do the walk because of the support Sense offer to people who are deafblind.

A smiling man stands in the woods. He is holding a white cane. There's snow on the ground.

In preparation for the RidgeWalk I’ve been doing lots of aerobic training, particularly on the treadmill and I’ve been slowly increasing the intensity of the workout. I’ve also been going on walks and hikes outside too, including a recent walk at Cheddar Gorge of approximately 6km. The walk was relatively short but over lots of different terrain including rocks, stones, roots, steps and there was even some deep snow to negotiate, all of which can be quite a challenge when you can’t see exactly where you are putting your feet.

A smiling man stands in the woods

When I am out on walks, I walk side by side with the guide on easy, wide paths and I may in future try using my running tether. When things are more challenging or narrow, I hold on to the guide’s rucksack and try to follow their feet while they describe what obstacles may lie ahead, for example, steps up or down, rocks to be avoided or branches to duck for. It doesn’t always work out perfectly and sometimes I tread on their feet or skim my head on a low branch.

Paraclimbing is perfect training for my big walking adventure

A man climbing on an indoor artificial rock face
I am currently in my sixth Year as a member of the GB Paraclimbing team. I climb around four times a week as part of training for both national and international competitions. This September is the start of the World

Championships which is taking place Austria so I will be working hards toward that over the coming months. This will be my third World Championships and I’m hoping to improve on my current world ranking of 4th. It takes a lot of my time, but I am very proud to represent my country.

I’m hoping that by also training for the RidgeWalk, I will improve my overall fitness, which will in turn help with my climbing.

I’m really looking forward to taking on this challenge.

Feeling inspired by John and want to take on this epic charity challenge next year? Register your interest in the RidgeWalk 2019

Author: John Churcher

John Churcher has Usher syndrome, affecting his sight and hearing. He is a Great Britain paraclimber who has reached the top of the Eiger mountain in the Swiss Alps.

One thought on “Even with a disability, it’s possible to have an adventure”

  1. Hi John,
    I really enjoyed your blog post!
    Although I have not been tested, I strongly suspect I have Usher Syndrome, Type 3, with RP being the first problem and hearing loss, the second. When I was last tested, I had 5 degrees of vision. I write about coping with vision loss and coming to terms with using a white cane. Most of my writing is geared toward the “adventures” I have with losing my vision. I would love to interview you for my Friday Friends column, where I feature others who move forward positively with vision / hearing loss. I think it would be great to hear about your experience after the Ridge Walk. I haven’t done a feature for awhile but you can check out my Friday Friends column on my website. https://amybovaird.com/category/friday-friends/
    Good luck with your training and your walk!

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