Nick Gleeson: An ordinary person doing extraordinary things

19 April 2018

There's been three New York City Marathons, a race up the more than 1,500 stairs of the Empire State Building and a 90km ultra marathon in South Africa, a hiking and climbing trip through New Zealand, a trek across the Simpson Desert and expeditions to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro and Everest Base Camp. 

In between all that Nick Gleeson has also found the time to carve out a career as a motivational speaker as well as become a published author. 

Nick's laundry list of achievements have all been completed as a person who is blind, after he lost his vision due to an accident at the age of seven. While some may question how Nick has done all that with no vision, the 57 year-old doesn't believe there's anything out of the ordinary when it comes to his achievements.
 
"For me, it's never been about demonstrating what I can or can't do. All the things that I've done have been things I've wanted to experience myself," Nick says. 

"I just consider myself an ordinary person. There are things I want to do in life so I set myself a goal and then like anybody else I work out how I want to achieve it," he says. 

Though Nick himself tends to downplay what he's done, he does say there are some people who are surprised about his activities. 

"I don't mind talking about what I've done, but I've just never wanted to put forward as some kind of hero about what people who are blind can do," he says. 

"Some people are a little shocked when I talk about it, but I find once I talk to them about it they realise a bit that it's just a case of me doing what I want to do and that I plan out everything to overcome any challenges there may be."

While his achievements are so far impressive enough, Nick is currently preparing for his next adventure and one that he thinks will be up there as his most challenging and rewarding. 

Nick will head to South Australia in late May for a three-day, two-night trek spanning around 25km across the salt flats of Island Lagoon in outback south Australia. While the physical distance may not top other the other feats he's completed, Nick will be doing this one solo. 

"The ultramarathon was certainly gruelling and the other treks I've done have been challenging, but I've always had other people there with in some capacity or even Unity my Seeing Eye Dog. It's the solo aspect of this trip that makes it more exciting and challenging compared to the other things I have done," he said.
 
"Being out there alone will have some challenges, but it's something I'm keen to do. It's something I want to do, but I'm also looking forward to having time for some quiet reflection. It's clichéd, but this is as much about the journey as it is the destination."

There have been some raised eyebrows from others when Nick tells them him his plan, but he's confident of the preparation and support he's put in place. 

Nick will be in touch with a support team throughout the trek and has been working with a Vision Australia Orientation & Mobility Specialists to develop the skills and become familiar with the equipment necessary to support him. 

"We've mapped out a route for the trek and at the end of each day I'll check in with Sarah Delaney who is a professional outdoor guide and has supported me on other trips. We'll be able to work out where I am at the end of each day and correct my course if necessary. 

"Staying on course is probably going to be the biggest challenge, but I've been working with Carolina, an O&M from Vision Australia to learn how to use accessible compasses, ones that have Brialle and audio features, to assist me. Because it's salt flats, there's chance of some challenges if I encounter patches where it's wet and might be a bit difficult to get through, but we've been working with using hiking poles as a way to help me navigate."

"Some people might think I'm being irresponsible, but we've got a risk management strategy in place and gone through all the planning and precautions that we need to. My support team will know where I am at all times and they'll always be contactable be radio."

Nick is self-managed participant of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and has used funds from his package to help him prepare for the trek, including his O&M lessons. 

"The NDIS is designed to allow people to access the services they want and I think I'm a good example of that. This is something I really want to do and my NDIS package has played a big part in allowing me to do that. 

"I have a history with Vision Australia, but their goal is to support the decisions and choices of their clients and it's just been a great fit with me using my package to access their services."

You can show your support for Nick, Vision Australia and the wider blindness and low vision community by donating at Nick's Island Lagoon Expedition. All donations over $2 are tax deductible and will support people who are blind or have low vision to access specialist support services. Donate today.