EXTREME ACTS OF COURAGE
BY MIKE BYRNE 10:02 – 18 February 2002
AN Exeter man who is going blind has given up his job to live life on the edge before his sight finally fails.
Dean Dunbar, 32, has just returned from a world tour where he trekked the Himalayas, went white-water rafting, bungee jumping and deep-sea diving.
And Dean, from Heavitree, who is already registered blind, now plans to set-up his own extreme sports club. Four years ago his sight started to fail and he was told he was going blind. Then last year it got dramatically worse, so Dean gave up his job so he could live every hour of every day to the full.
CITY ACTION MAN DEAN TAKES ON THE WORLD BEFORE HIS EYESIGHT FINALLY FAILS
BY MIKE BYRNE 12:00 – 18 February 2002
Fly-By-Wire in New Zealand
AN Exeter man who is slowly going blind is cramming in as many sights and experiences as he can before he finally loses his sight.
Dean Dunbar, 32, of Monks Road, Mount Pleasant, who is already registered blind, gave up his job at Exeter prison to travel the world with his fiancee, city GP, Dr Rhona McCorkindale.
Every hour of every day for five months, Dean set about living life to the full knowing that at any point he could finally lose all sight.
Experts have told him that it could happen any time.
Dean said: “I had perfect sight until I was nine then it started to fail bit by bit, never getting better.
“Then four years ago it started to become really grim and I was told that ultimately I would be completely blind.
“It could be tomorrow, it could be years down the road.
“It is just one of those things.
“Then, when I was working at the prison’s custody office, it failed badly and I decided that we had to do something now.
“Rhona and I are getting married in May and we had planned a world trip after that, but with time running out we decided we would do it now and I would cram in as much as I could.”
Dean’s determination saw them fly first to India and from there, across the border to Nepal.
They started with seven days’ rugged trekking in the foothills of the Himalayas, climbing to 4,000 metres.
That completed, the pair joined a white-water rafting expedition on the River San Cosey in Nepal.
Dean said: “We capsized once. The rest of the party clung on to the boat but I was swept away.
“I just let myself go. I curled into a ball and as I couldn’t see all the rocks flashing by I was quite happy.
“They picked me up about 100 metres further down river.
“The white water was classed as grade four, with the worst being grade five, so it was quite exciting.”
From Nepal the pair flew to Thailand – just hours before most of the Nepalese Royal Family were assassinated – and spent three days in the deep jungle, where they met Tina, the barmaid at Exeter’s Double Locks pub. “We did not know her,” said Dean, “but she overheard us telling somebody else we were from Exeter and she piped up, ‘Where in Exeter?’ and introduced herself.”
A flight to Australia and a 24-hour stopover was the prelude to an eight-week stay in the heartland of extreme sports and pastimes, New Zealand.
Dean, who already holds the record as the only registered blind person in the world to have done a helicopter bungee jump – from 400 metres up – felt at home immediately.
First he performed a bungee jump from the highest spot possible in the world, a cable car swinging 134 metres above a river canyon.
Dean said: “People say it is quite scary but in some ways it is worse if you cannot see where you are going. I couldn’t see the bottom of course but other sensations are heightened.”
If that was not enough, Dean then took on one of the toughest and most dangerous of extreme sports – white-water sledging.
He explained: “You get on a boogie board, like a very small surf board, and shoot over rapids and waterfalls, some of them up to seven metres high.”
There followed some relatively docile kayaking, followed by snowboarding.
“They made me have a bib around my neck saying ‘blind skier’ so everybody got out of my way,” said Dean. “I seemed to go over a lot of jumps I did not know were there.”
He got his breath back with a little stunt -flying, doing rolls, loop-the-loops and backward flips on board a tiny stunt plane flown by a skilled Kiwi pilot. Dean said: “Of course I could not see the view but the sensations were immense, you could feel the strain and hear the noise of the wind ripping past.”
After that, Dean and Rhona headed for the Pacific island paradise of Tahiti – not to sunbathe but to try their hand at deep sea diving. After that it was the wild country of Chile – but their excitement came to an end in the wake of the September 11 disasters in New York and Washington.
Dean said: “We were watching it all happen on CNN and things looked like they were getting quite bad so we decided to come home.”
And he admitted: “For all the excitement I have to say that I still find crossing the road in Exeter one of the most scariest things to do.”
He added: “It was all incredibly worthwhile and it let me see and do things that I might not otherwise get the chance to experience ever again. It was also great to be with Rhona, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
The couple plan to wed at Belvedere Tower on Haldon Hill with a honeymoon in Scotland.
Dean is hoping that in the meantime, someone will help him achieve his lasting ambition – to undertake a wingwalk.
He said: “I called Exeter Airport but they just laughed when I told them.”
After the wedding the next big date on his calendar is June 19 as he has been chosen to run one of the legs in the Queen’s Jubilee Baton Relay when it comes to Exeter.
Dean was nominated by his stepmother, Maureen. He said: “I am really proud to be taking part and I am looking forward to it.”