Dean loves to take things to the limit
by Grant Hill 30th October, 2003
THERE IS a group scattered across the globe united by a love of the kind of hair-raising activities that leave most of us quivering. These people like nothing better than to throw themselves off cliffs, out of aeroplanes and take on the fiercest white water nature can throw up, all in the pursuit of the ultimate adrenalin rush.
Like thousands of his fellow extreme sports fans who can be found in every corner of the world, Blairgowrie’s Dean Dunbar loves to feel the quickening of his pulse and the euphoria course through his body as he embarks on yet another exhilarating adventure. The only difference is that he is registered blind after being diagnosed with a rare eye condition that has meant his sight has been worsening since the age of nine.
However, being partially sighted has only served to make Dean more determined to enjoy life to the full – and then some.
“I suppose a lot of people expect those of us who are registered blind to be sitting at home weaving baskets and knitting but that just isn’t me, and I’m going to live the life I want to for as long as I can,” he said.
“I really enjoy extreme sports and get a lot out of them. When people tell me I can’t do something because of my vision then it makes me all the more determined to do it to prove them wrong. Some people believe that because of their personal circumstances, that these sports are out of reach. I want to prove that a lot of the time this is not the case. If you really want to do it, often the only thing holding you back is yourself.”
Dean was born in Edinburgh in 1969 with no apparent sight problems. At the age of six he moved to the outskirts of Glasgow and, he says, climbed trees, chased girls and did all the normal things expected of a boy of his age. It was only after the family moved to Newcastle three years later that Dean first began to encounter difficulties with his vision. His eyesight suffered an overnight deterioration and, from that point on, was registered as partially sighted.
For the next 18 years, Dean’s level of vision remained relatively steady as doctors and consultants struggled with various diagnoses and prognoses for the condition. Then in 1996 his sight dropped suddenly and severely with Dean advised to start learning Braille and get himself a guide dog. His condition was diagnosed as Rod-Cone Dystrophy, a general term for a number of eye conditions which affect light and dark perception. Doctors initially warned Dean that any remaining sight he had would be gone within a year. This meant he had to make a major decision about his future: should he sit back at home and wallow in self-pity or should he get out there to make the most of life, sight or no sight?
“It was a massive moment for me but one to which there was really only one answer. I had to get out there, I had to try as many exciting things as possible. The first time I tried out an extreme sport was 1998 when I did a tandem sky-dive and I was instantly hooked on the adrenalin rush. Before I did it people were telling me I couldn’t do it because of my sight but guess what? I did it.”
“Since then I have been told I cant do certain activities on numerous occasions and each time it makes me more determined to keep on going. I’ve been knocked back for three different things this year because the companies concerned say their insurance wont cover a blind person. One day my sight will deteriorate so I have light and dark perception only but until that happens I’m going to keep on going and do and see as much as I can.”
The sports Dean has tried vary from snowboarding to bungee-jumping, Royal Marine Assault Course to white-water sledging. He knows that it would have been impossible for him to undertake any without the assistance of organisers and instructors whom he thanks for being open-minded enough to accept his disability and make provision for it. He also expresses his thanks to the many friends who have supported him and especially to his wife Rhona who he met whilst working at the West of England School for children with little or no sight, his own alma matter, in 1998.
Dean lost his vision completely for several days in November 2000 and was forced to wear sunglasses for weeks afterwards until some of his sight returned. It was at this point the couple decided to go travelling whilst Dean could still see the world. They spent six months of the following year trekking round Nepal, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and Chile before returning to these shores and marrying in May 2002. Shortly afterwards they moved to the Perthshire town which affords them plenty of opportunities to turn their knuckles white pursuing their favourite pastimes such as canyoning, canoeing and cliff jumping in the surrounding countryside.
He has also managed to combine his lust for life on the edge with a desire to help others with several of his activities being undertaken to raise money for various charities.
He knows his sight will continue to worsen and that this may happen tomorrow or it may take another 40 years. He is, however, determined to make the most of every minute he is able to dedicate to the extreme sports he loves so much. He currently works for Nae Limits, a Dunkeld-based firm specialising in extreme sports and has established a website www.extremedreams.co.uk for like-minded individuals to whom the lure of the adrenalin rush is too much to resist. Through extremedreams he has made contact and friends with hundreds of other thrill-seekers who meet in cyber-space to share their experiences and the site now receives 2-300,000 hits a month.
Dean says of the site, “People come on to tell me what they’ve got up to and to recommend I try certain things while companies also come on to offer new sports.
“There are so many fantastic sports out there that people might not be aware of and I want them to know about them. I also want people to realise they are capable of achieving what I have done.”
by Grant Hill