A blind veteran from Suffolk has returned to the slopes in Canazei, Italy, along with other vision-impaired Armed Forces veterans, thanks to national military charity Blind Veterans UK.
Roan Webb, 48 and from Ipswich, challenged himself to ski for the first time in 30 years, with the support of Blind Veterans UK’s instructors. Roan went skiing in the Italian Dolomites mountain range with 24 other vision-impaired skiers, for the charity’s 41st annual ski trip.
Roan says: “I skied before when I was in the Army but I haven’t done it for 30 years. The atmosphere was amazing. Blind Veterans UK paired me with a guide who was both an Army veteran and a fantastic skier so I count myself very lucky!
“By the end of the first day we were skiing down from the very top of the mountain on the black runs, which are the most difficult skiing pistes. By the second day we were skiing at the Sella Ronda, a ski circuit reserved for established skiers, and on the third day we were skiing everywhere! It was a really empowering and enjoyable trip.”
Enlisted in the Royal Artillery in 1985, Roan was posted to Germany and discharged in 1991. He was responsible for maintaining and servicing anti-air craft missiles.
Roan says: “The first few years were good. I felt like I was part of a team, had a great time with my peers and was always involved with sports activities. I learned to both ski and drive in the Army.”
It was during his time in the Army that Roan realised there was something wrong with his sight. He started to struggle with night time duties, lost his confidence and stopped doing the sports activities he had previously enjoyed.
Roan says: “My life became very difficult because I felt beyond miserable and left out. I did the best I could and pushed for a medical discharge but it didn’t happen, so I ended up taking early retirement.”
It was in 1992, after he left the Army, that Roan was finally diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. The doctors said this was the reason why he was having so many problems with his work, but sadly there was nothing they could do to make it better.
Roan says: “It was devastating to hear I had retinitis pigmentosa, but it was relief that I wasn’t juggling it along with work pressures anymore, and could begin to understand my condition.”
Fortunately in 1997, Roan was referred to Blind Veterans UK to have his eyes tested by a specialised ophthalmologist. Since joining the charity, he has been given training, equipment and psychological support. He has also thrown himself into different sports activities with other blind veterans and begun challenging himself to take on new adventures, like skiing.
Roan says: “I had no idea about all the support that was on offer from Blind Veterans UK. The charity came into my life and pushed me to try new activities and start living my life again.
“I’ve taken part in the 100k ultra-challenge training, completed rehabilitation courses, made new friends, and now I’ve skied for the first time since I have impaired vision. I really think that my sight loss has actually changed my life for the better.”
Blind Veterans UK is the national charity for blind and vision-impaired ex-Service men and women, providing vital practical and emotional support to help veterans discover life beyond sight loss.
The charity is reaching out to the estimated 740 vision-impaired ex-Service men and women in Suffolk county battling severe sight loss who could be eligible for support but don’t currently realise it. Most of these veterans completed their service many years ago, and have since lost their sight due to conditions such as macular degeneration or glaucoma.
If you, or someone you know, served in the Armed Forces or did National Service and is now battling severe sight loss, find out how Blind Veterans UK could help by calling 0800 389 7979 or visiting blindveterans.org.uk.