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Blind man's tough, and ready to train you

PUBLISHED: 14:52 18 November 2009 | UPDATED: 10:11 12 August 2010

THE WEIGHTING GAME: James O'Driscoll.

THE WEIGHTING GAME: James O'Driscoll.

A MAN who exercised to fight his depression after losing his eyesight has become the first blind person in the country to qualify as a fitness instructor. James O Driscoll, 37, from Hayes, sunk into depression when he lost his sight 11 years ago due to a

A MAN who exercised to fight his depression after losing his eyesight has become the first blind person in the country to qualify as a fitness instructor.

James O'Driscoll, 37, from Hayes, sunk into depression when he lost his sight 11 years ago due to a rare condition, called Optic Neuropathy, affecting around 1 in 20 million people.

But he turned his life around by quitting smoking and keeping fit and this month qualified as a fitness instructor.

He said: "Becoming physically active changed my life, taking me from a place of depression to happiness.

"Now I'm seeking to give as many other people the opportunity to experience the life-enhancing benefits of getting and keeping fit."

The former construction worker woke up one morning blind in one eye and in just six weeks he had lost his sight completely.

Recalling that day, he said: "It was a Tuesday, I had a take away with my ex partner and I went to bed, everything was normal. When I woke up in the morning I couldn't see out of my right eye. Six weeks later, I was registered blind.

"I was self employed so I lost my income, my flat was repossessed and I split up with my girlfriend.

"I got depressed and became a bit of a recluse. But it got to a point where I had a moment of clarity and I thought 'I can't carry on like this'.

"I quit smoking and with the money I saved from that got a rowing machine and started getting fit."

He added: "It definitely helped me fight depression. Exercise releases so many chemicals and training with people can be a sociable experience.

"It is a case of believing in yourself, we all have something inside us that motivates us. If you believe in yourself, soon other people will believe in you too."

Mr O'Driscoll enrolled and trained alongside non-disabled students on a CYQ (Central YMCA Qualifications) level two course, leading to an internationally recognised fitness instructor qualification at London's South Bank University.

He decided to complete the three-week course after working as a classroom assistant for children with visual impairments and encouraging them to use the gym after school hours.

He was given extra support by The London Sports Forum for Disabled People and the university but fulfilled the same criteria for the theory and practical components of the course as his non-disabled classmates.

In his new job, he will be given an assistant who will be his 'eyes' giving him information about the client's physical safety and performance when directed by him.

Fazilet Hadi of the Royal National Institute of Blind People said: "As James' experience highlights, losing sight is devastating.

"James is proof that with the right support and services, blind and partially sighted people can find their lives again."

kate.mead@archant.co.uk

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