I was asked to write a blog for Vista’s new Community Hub so thought that rather than writing two separate blogs, one for Vista and another for my own website (www.haseebblindironman.com), I’d write the one and submit it for both webpages. I’m lazy that way.
So, what will I write about? My last blog gave an update on where I was at after my house move, getting diagnosed with IBS and the first few weeks of lockdown. I won’t repeat myself you’ll be glad to know as it is all there in my last blog. Rather, I thought, I would bring you up to speed in terms of how I have been dealing with living life under the restrictions. I’m sure some of you will be feeling the social isolation and the loss of independence. Before I do that though I ought to introduce myself to those of you who may not necessarily know me all that well. For those of you who do please feel to skip the next paragraph.
My name is Haseeb Ahmad and I am totally Blind. I have a condition called retinitis pigmentosa and once I was able to see. But, that was a long time ago…a long story with its ups and downs. I like to think more up than down. So much so that I decided to publish my autobiography in 2017 called “From Blind Man to Ironman.” It’s all about how I lost my sight, how I came to terms with it and how, incredibly with the assistance of my amazing guide Duncan Shae-Simonds how I broke the Guinness Book of Records for the fastest blind ironman record in 2016 in Barcelona which still stands. My day job is currently as the Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at Leicestershire Partnership Trust. A great job working with some pretty awesome people.
So, as you may have gathered I am into my fitness. Which, if I am honest, has been something of concern to me as lockdown became imminent. Fortunately for me my house moves and ordering of my fitness equipment (completely coincidental) happened just prior to lockdown. I managed to get hold of a treadmill which arrived literally a couple of days before the rules about non-essential travel came in to force. I had also managed to convert my garage into a gym so that I could train in the convenience of my own home environment. I look back now and wonder where I would have been without my treadmill and weight set. My daughter, who is sighted, signed up to the Joe Wicks (Body Coach) fitness programme and not wishing to discourage her I agreed to get up at 6.15 every morning for 5 mornings a week and exercise with her. Oh my word, no sooner had I started working out in the mornings and then added in my evening runs I realized that maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew. But, I was really enjoying the time I was spending with her and over a few weeks it was clear that the sessions were not only a good opportunity to strengthen the father-daughter bond but physically we were also reaping the benefits of getting leaner and stronger. I couldn’t really recall the last time when my legs were aching on a daily basis. My previously normal regime was one strength and conditioning session a week combined with 6 runs a week.
Many of the Body Coach exercises do involve combined dynamic movement. So, for example, running on the spot and punching simultaneously. These are a bit tricky for me as I can’t always tell whether I am doing this on the same spot or, have moved slightly back, forward, or to one side. Generally speaking I’m OK, however, occasionally I move too much to one side or, as I did on one particular session, move too far back and tripped over my weight bar and twisted my ankle. A split second before my daughter had shouted,
“Step forward daddy!”
Exercising when blind can be dangerous. However, my amazing daughter keeps an eye on me and let’s me know if I am too far back or not facing in the right direction. She also demonstrates the exercises to me which is really helpful. What would I do without her?
With things not being as they should at the moment and with life being turned upside down, the routine and physical exercise has undoubtedly made me feel more positive than I would have otherwise felt.
Also, my feeling of well-being has been helped by the fact that I love my new home and not commuting to work has meant that the extra time has gone in to spending more time with my daughter and wife (and dog of course). It’s incredible how much time is wasted commuting to work and back. (Before lockdown) I was spending at least an hour a day commuting by taxi. That’s 5 hours a week. Well, I’m sure you can work out the math’s – that’s a lot of hours a year. Yet, there are some things which I have missed as a consequence of lockdown.
First of all, I have missed my weekly runs with my friends. As good as the treadmill is, it is no substitute for running outdoors with a good friend and having a good old natter. I wonder when I will actually be able to do that again. Even if the lockdown restrictions are eased, the social distancing rules may mean that I might not be able to run with a friend for perhaps another year. I’ll remain positive and hope that there are some ways around this. Apparently you are more likely to pick something up from someone running behind them than running beside them. Perhaps we can run wearing a mask but, I don’t know how much this would impair the flow of oxygen through the mask.
I do miss having the social contact with my extended family (mum, dad, brother, sister and their children). I miss my support worker Abby who I have worked with for almost 5 years now, who is a very positive force in my working life. I know that my Guide Dog misses her too, and, anyone who knows the story of Abby taking the position 5 years ago will know that the real reason why she accepted the role was because she wanted to work with Walt.
Workwise things haven’t been so bad. My organisation eventually set me up to work from home. I am in a fortunate position to have some nifty kit which plugs in to the back of my Broadband hub and acts as a secondary Wi-Fi network which gives me access to all of my work emails and folders. The standard way of accessing my work network wouldn’t have worked for me so I was grateful for the reasonable adjustment which I really hope stays in place well past the Covid19 measures. Meetings are done through MS Teams and Skype, while not perfect, has been remarkable in ensuring that I can maintain contact with all of my colleagues and some resemblance of normality. It doesn’t replace face to face contact, but, I do wonder whether this will be part of the “new normal” for future ways of working. It certainly makes sense for any organisation whose bases are scattered around or it takes more than 10 minutes to walk (or drive) from one meeting to another.
While I have missed the ability to walk independently (with the assistance of my Guide Dog Walt) to the supermarket and be aided by a shop assistant to browse the shelves and take my time to pick my favorite products, I am fortunate that my wife Mary does the shopping on a weekly basis for us. If I need something not available from the shops, many products are only a few clicks away. And, if that is difficult I can ask my daughter to help with any on-line problems. I am one very lucky guy.
While being blind during the lockdown has many inconveniences I count myself lucky that I have an incredible support network around me and a home environment which enables me to train. I know the importance of having a healthy body, which in turn helps with maintaining a positive mindset. There are many challenges which we have had to face and ones we will no doubt continue to grapple with. However, I truly believe that where there is challenge there is opportunity. Where there is darkness, there is a glimmer of light. I am looking forward to what the new normal will look like (and feel like) and finally I am looking forward to running with my wonderful friends and smashing out a few races. Maybe I might be able to do the Manchester marathon later this year.
Keep safe and keep connected.