This article was written in Spring 2015.
Three words to describe ‘Blind’ Dave Heeley are: inspirational, modest, and adventurous.
Dave is a keen, ultra-runner and the first blind person to complete seven marathons in seven days on seven continents. He completed Lands End to John O’Groats running 10 marathons in 10 days, and cycling between each stage. Not only that, but earlier this year he completed the toughest footrace on earth: Marathon Des Sables, (MDS) followed by his thirteenth Virgin London Marathon, and various ‘shorter’ races.
But Dave Heeley’s close friend Garry Wells from Wigan, has three alternative ways of describing him: “old, stubborn, [and] incredibly fit.”
Garry, met his close friend Dave at the London Marathon in 2004 when they were both running for Guide Dogs. After hearing Dave’s speech to the group of runners before the race, they had a chat and instantly hit it off.
Since then, Garry started running with Dave, and they have been running various road races, some for charity ever since.
He says: “I think it is good to give something back. When you do a lot of fundraising I have always felt that I should give something back to the community and people who have helped or donated.”
But going running with Dave is not as easy as it sounds. Although he is getting older now, at 58 he is incredibly fit. “As one of Dave’s four guides, we are all younger than him and we forget because he puts us to shame when he can out run us” he laughs.
“He has one stubborn mind-set; if he puts his mind to something he won’t stop until he has completed what he set out to do.”
“They can’t run on their own, and they can’t run with the guide dog, so it is nice to give something back to Dave and it gives me a great feeling to be able to do that.”
“But we help each other… I help Dave by giving him somebody to run with, but he helps me by pushing me further and faster, and that gives him a sense that he is helping somebody also, so it works both ways.”
Now that Dave’s legs are slowly recovering from the Sahara Desert he says: “We have just a few charity runs: the Great North Run, and the Birmingham Half [Marathon] planned for the rest of the year; nothing too strenuous.”
Training for these types of endurance events includes normal marathon training, “no speed work, and especially for MDS, lots of hills and running through valleys. But we also did lots of walking, with MDS they change the course every year and this year it was unbelievably rocky underfoot, so it was very difficult for me.”
“It’s amazing how much the body can take, even when you get older it may take you a little bit longer, but it is amazing how much an individual can do.”
Each event stands out as being a gruelling challenge, but Dave says they were all difficult in their own way. “MDS was without a doubt the hardest, because there were so many elements to it: the heat, the length of time we were out for, and the terrain. Likewise, Lands End to John O’Groats was also extremely difficult because the whole team were only getting about four hours sleep each night; which meant a lot of the time we were running on empty, and every day we had to keep going.”
One question Dave could not answer was whether his sight has played a huge part in his life.
When Dave was at school he wanted to join the armed forces; but when he was diagnosed with Retina Pigmentosa in his teenage years and his eyesight began to deteriorate rapidly, and he could not do the typical things 18 year-olds could do like learn to drive, and continue to be the five year 1500m district champion.
He began to realise his dream was shattered of going into the army, and there was two paths he could take: the negative or the positive.
“I think the adventurer is still in me, and I probably would have still done some silly things like the endurance challenges because in the armed forces you get a lot of opportunities like that.”
“But that’s a very good question… who knows?”
Dave may not have fulfilled his ambition being in the armed forces, and with the dream of continuing into the Special Air Force (SAS). (And his wife Deb reminds him, that if he had gone into the army or the SAS, it’s likely he would be dead by now.)
However, what he has achieved, are things that even a lot of sighted people have not done. Dave learned skills in carpentry and wood turning, and he made all of his children’s bedroom furniture in his workshop. His current project is making a filing cabinet for his study. To name a few, he has been skiing, driven a tank in the Highlands, ridden a motorbike, abseiled, and skydived. He has the pleasure of a guide dog called Seamus who helps him get to his day to day errands, and as a result of his charity work, he has made close friends from all over the country like Garry, who on the odd occasion gets pulled up the hills by Dave.