Marathon running army veteran calls for blind people to follow his lead

Steven Waterston from Dalkeith - a veteran with sight loss who runs marathons using a long cane and is gearing up to take on his sixth London Marathon later this month.
Steven Waterston from Dalkeith - a veteran with sight loss who runs marathons using a long cane and is gearing up to take on his sixth London Marathon later this month.

A Dalkeith veteran with sight loss is encouraging others with a visual impairment to take up sport as he gears up to run the London Marathon for the sixth time.

Long-distance athlete Steven Waterston (46) has run with a long cane since his significant sight loss, which resulted from life-saving surgery.

After overcoming a brain haemorrhage in 2003, Steven was diagnosed with congenital condition Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) .

A second bleed in August 2008 – just after Steven completed his first double marathon effort in London and Edinburgh – led to the former army chef taking the tough decision to undergo high risk surgery in February 2009 to minimise future bleeds.

The procedure left him completely blind in his left visual field with reduced vision and processing in his right visual field, and resulted in paralysis on his left side. A turbulent recovery process, which also saw him suffer numerous blood clots, including a clot in his lung, and pneumonia, makes the fact that Steven ran the Loch Ness marathon just eight months after his operation even more incredible.

He said: “After my first bleed in 2003, running was like a coping mechanism. At that time I wanted to focus and have a goal to achieve. I wanted to prove my level of fitness. I really, really enjoyed it.

“There’s always something positive you can take out of a race. I’ve always been competitive and I was always intrigued by marathons – every year I’d watch London, and I always knew one day I’d get to a marathon.”

Now holding the UK T38 Para Athlete titles for both marathon and half marathon distances, Steven has not only overcome physical and emotional challenges as a result of his illness and sight loss.

Medically discharged from the army in 2011 and faced with restricted employment opportunities due to his vision impairment, Steven’s determination has led to an ever-flourishing career in sports and fitness.

A Scottish War Blinded member for 10 years, he also receives practical and emotional support from his outreach worker Dawn Smith.

After suffering a leg break last year, the charity also helped Steven keep his fitness up for London this month.

With his race tally still clocking up, an ultra-marathon under his belt, and an undisclosed target of how many marathons he’d like to complete ultimately, the sportsman hopes that by hearing his story, others with sight loss, who are unsure about how to get active, can feel reassured that anything is possible.

“Don’t discount anything, keep open minded and go give it a try,” Steven said.

“You don’t have to be expected to be UK number one. Try it, see it how it is and give yourself the chance, because other things come from sport – not just holding records. There are huge social, mental and physical benefits, too.

“Get in touch with organisations like Scottish War Blinded, who have people who know governing bodies.

“If you’ve got an affiliation for a particular sport, one of the governing bodies is probably the place to ask for more detailed information on what’s around in your area.”

Scottish War Blinded support former servicemen and women with a vision impairment. Call 0800 035 6409 to refer a veteran to the charity.