Life as a Blind Extreme Sports Addict
Interviewed by Hannah Keane, ID Band Company – January, 2014
Meet Dean Dunbar, the adventure sports addict who doesn’t let being blind get in the way of his love for all things ‘extreme’.
Dean, 44, a former fitness instructor now living in Blairgowrie, Perthshire, was registered blind aged 27. But rather than giving up, he began taking part in adventure sports activities.
In 1998, he did a tandem skydive while working for a blind school in Exeter. It was this experience that gave him the bug and turned him into a fully fledged adrenaline junkie.
“It was the adrenaline rush from the skydive that got me kick-started. The feeling was so intense – from then on it was a case of looking for more extreme sports to get that buzz again. I was an adrenaline junkie looking for my next fix,” says Dean.
Don’t Let Knockbacks Knock you Back
When trying to get involved with organised adventure sports trips, many companies would tell Dean he wasn’t able to take part because he’s blind.
“As soon as I told them that I was blind, usually the brakes would come on and they’d tell me either that their insurance wouldn’t cover me or it’s against health and safety. I used to get knocked back probably nine times out of 10.”
He set up Extreme Dreams as a thank-you to the companies that allowed him to participate. The website logs most of the activities he has completed so far.
“When the odd company would say come along and we’ll give it a try, I wanted to say an extra thank you to them. That’s why I set up the website, so that everyone knows who the good guys are.”
The First Blind Human Catapult
From cliff jumping and bungee jumping to wing walking and sandboarding, you name it, Dean has probably done it.
“Over the past 15 years I’ve clocked up about 70 activities, which have taken place all over the world. It certainly keeps me busy – I’m always planning the next one,” he says.
He has also set several world records. He was the first registered blind person to bungee jump from a helicopter, and the first to be thrown by the Dangerous Sports Club’s Human Catapult.
In 2012 he became the first person in the world to swim the UK’s highest loch, Loch Etchachan. After such massive achievements, this year Dean has tried to take things a little easier.
“This year has actually been a quiet year because I promised my wife I’d sit back a bit and let her conquer some of her own activities.
“She’s involved in a lot of the adventure stuff I do, helping me on the safety boat in swimming events, getting me to places and things like that. So she’s recently done a few triathlons and I’ve just relaxed a bit,” says Dean.
But you can never take the adventure from an adrenaline junkie for too long.
“The average person’s idea of a quiet year wasn’t mine though. I’ve still done a few events here and there. For instance I did a kayak race, a microlight flight and stuff like that. A lot of people look at me and say that’s not a quiet year at all,” he laughs.
So Much Adventure comes with a Challenge
Of course, being registered blind does make completing extreme activities a lot more challenging.
“We always make sure we have a safety mechanism in place, which varies depending on the activity. With my swimming events I often needed a guide in the water, who swims in front of me wearing a pair of bright yellow socks.”
Although Dean is registered blind, he still has some sight. He relies on peripheral vision because the central part of his vision has now gone.
Dean needs to take extra precautions to ensure his safety while he’s getting his adrenalin fixes.
“If I’m out mountain biking with my wife, she’ll be in front of me and I’ll watch her back wheel, so she has to make sure her wheels are in line at all times,” he says.
He stresses the importance of safety in numbers when it comes to adventure sports.
“I generally do sea kayaking in a two-man kayak because it’s safer that way, rather than me paddling off into the distance on my own. I don’t do any activity alone. I’ll always have a guide of some sort with me.
“When I go canyoning, someone will walk me to the edge and tell me ‘Look at 12 o’clock, now leap forward and you’re going to drop 50 feet into the water.”
Dean completed a daredevil canyoning challenge in Spain which had defeated some of his sighted peers . The high-thrills activity involved abseiling, jumping and sliding to reach the bottom of a canyon.
“The month before we completed the Sa Fosca canyon there had been a lot of rescues, and even one of the rescuers had broken their leg while trying to get someone out. We had a very strong, experienced five-man team and managed it without any problems. We also had a team waiting for us at the end.”
Safety Comes First
As a seasoned adrenaline junkie, Dean knows the importance of safety. Over time, he learned that preparation is essential before embarking on his high-octane adventures.
“When it comes to staying safe, I would say make sure you’re with someone. Not only is it safety in numbers, it’s also more fun as well,” he says.
“You need to make sure you’re wearing a helmet and have all the appropriate gear when taking part in these sports. When I’m mountain biking I usually fall off 99 times out of 100, so I wear knee and arm pads as well.”
Dean also stresses the importance of having a first aid kit on your trip.
“The one time we didn’t have a first aid kit was when my friend came off his bike and broke his arm. That day we were in a real rush to go, we’d forgotten it, but thought we should be OK and went anyway. Sure enough that was the one time we’ve had a serious injury, so it just goes to show the importance of being prepared.”
Extreme Sports ID
Dean recommends using ID when participating in sports, to identify yourself and any medical issues you may have.
“I think wearing some form of ID is definitely a good idea, particularly if you’re going travelling. If you do get into difficulty abroad, your friends and family won’t know exactly where you are, which could be a big problem if there’s an accident.”
Get out and Give it a Go
Dean has never let his condition stand in his way and is determined the live life to the full.
“I think everyone should get out there and give adventure sports a go. Most of the time, people don’t know what’s available, and that’s why I have my website – to try and promote these activities. I’ve got an events page, so people can go along and watch different activities or give them a go.”
Dean also likes to encourage others to participate in adventure sports.
“They see someone else doing it and it gives them the encouragement to have a go. I like to give people the knowledge of these sports. I’m a big supporter of getting people out and doing this kind of thing.”
Sports ID Bands From The ID Band Company
Whether it’s rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking or kayaking, if you love adventure, it’s important to keep vital information safe in an emergency.
With our comfortable sports wristbands, helmet and shoe tags you can display your name, in case of emergency number and medical details.
If your medication often alters, our USB wristbands and dog tags are the ideal choice. You can include more detailed information, which emergency services can access via a PC or mobile device.
We also have fitness belts with a handy pouch to keep your phone, keys and medication safe while you’re enjoying the great outdoors.
Full article with pictures can be viewed at http://www.theidbandco.com/Blog/Life-as-a-Blind-Extreme-Sports-Addict