When set in a sporting context, ‘inspirational’ has become an over-used adjective, an easy, if lazy description, used most frequently as a substitute for ‘impressive’ or ‘brilliant’; ‘inspirational’ is several notches higher up the ethereal, core-of-the-soul level than either of these two.
From Dark to Light is a truly inspirational book; one that, once finished, inspires the reader to try, in some small way, to emulate the feats of its incredible co-author, Dave Heeley.
Although he was born sighted, Heeley was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, at the age of ten, a term the consultant eye specialist at Birmingham Eye Hospital clarified: “You’re going blind,” he confirmed. It’s difficult to imagine how anyone would feel upon hearing those words, but Heeley explains that it was only later he realised his life would “have to be adapted, shifted, tamed.” There’s not much evidence of the man being tamed here.
Yet Dave Heeley comes across as a normal, down-to-earth bloke. Despite his blindness, he became a very successful businessman; still followed West Brom; married and had a family. “Just to have 30 seconds of sight to see my daughters would be worth the world,” he reflects, but this is no ‘misery memoir’; Heeley accepts what he calls his ‘frustrating’ condition and gets on with life.
As a child, he ran and played football but was forced to abandon both; it was only later in life that he caught the running bug and, guided by friends, started tackling longer distances.
Following the successful completion of his first London marathon, he was accosted by a TV reporter who asked what is was like to run the marathon blind.
“Well,” replied Dave, “I started the marathon blind; I finished it blind and knackered.”
Between 2002 and 2014, he completed a dozen consecutive London marathons, a period during which he began to focus on an even tougher challenge, in order to raise more money for the Guide Dogs charity. A friend told him about the ultimate test of endurance: seven marathons in seven days on seven different continents; in 2008, Dave became the first, and to date only, blind person to complete this incredible feat.
There’s more, including last year’s Marathon des Sables, labelled the ‘toughest footrace on Earth’, a John O’Groats to Land’s End jaunt and 700 miles of cycling across seven countries inside a week.
Dave Heeley ends by saying that his blindness has encouraged him “to live life to the fullest, to embrace the mad, daft and dangerous…to take nothing for granted.” As Sir Ranulph Fiennes says in the book’s foreword, Dave Heeley is “a true inspiration”.