“Blind people can do almost anything” says Eric Andrews. And he can say it with confidence because looping the loop in a glider and taking part in a Coast to Coast tandem ride are just two of the challenges he’s ticked off since he began losing his sight at 60.
Eric, who worked as a design team manager for the NHS in Sheffield, tends to aim high. When he was their chairman he took Sheffield’s Visually Impaired Walking Group to the top of Snowdon and then Ben Nevis,
the highest peaks in Wales and Scotland, accompanied by his son Fraser.
Fraser was also his tandem buddy daring Eric to “see how fast we can go” when they were on the Whitehaven to Tynemouth Coast to Coast last year.
And later this year, at the age of 77, he’ll be climbing up Scafel Pike which is England’s highest mountain with some of the walking group.
Eric has Lord’s Disease: Late Onset Retinal Dystrophy, and now has very limited vision. All the challenges he takes on are to raise money for SRSB and the walking group which holds its meetings at SRSB's Mappin Street centre.
“I am a big supporter of the centre in so much as it is a great asset for the people of Sheffield. There are 3 minibuses bringing people here every day. Once people go blind they can easily become housebound. Coming here means a tremendous amount to them.”
Eric is also very appreciative of the support the Visually Impaired Walking Group gets from their sighted guides. Without them the walks and the challenges could not take place.
“We are most grateful for the essential help we receive from our sighted guides,” he said.
As well as organising the walks Eric has also inspired members of the group to try new experiences, taking them on trips sailing and gliding. The gliding wasn’t all about doing the daredevil loop the loop. Eric wanted visually impaired people to experience the feeling of harnessing nature.
“They couldn’t see how high up they were but they could feel themselves flying like a bird.”
Eric began raising money for SRSB to support Jane and Sue in the fundraising team.
“I know they work very hard to keep the money coming in because so many other charities are doing the same and I didn’t want to put too much on them.”
He put his persuading skills as a manager in his career to good use coaxing donations and prizes from companies. And Eric had a novel idea for bringing in the money from supporters. Instead of asking for sponsorship he runs a competition for people to guess how long it will take to complete his challenges.
*In May his Eric’s son Fraser and a friend are cycling 938 miles from Land’s End to John O’Groats. If you want to help fundraise they are also having a Guess the Time Competition. You can pick up an entry form from SRSB reception. The Scafell Pike Challenge takes place in September 13/14.