Blind Ambition: Kevin Alderton
By Katherine Adams
After a vicious attack in London left Dartford man, Kevin Alderton almost totally blind he was determined not to give up. He is now the fastest blind skier in the world, reaching speeds of 100mph.
Kevin Alderton is a man with an incredible story. In 1998 he was at the peak of his physical abilities, a member of the British Army and enjoying life to the full. In one evening all this changed. After leaving a pub in Islington he and a friend saw a girl being assaulted by two men in a doorway. Without thinking twice they rushed over to protect her, eventually getting her out of harm’s way.
Kevin on the slopes in Les Arcs
A few minutes later a huge crowd emerged from the pub to come to the aid, not of them, but to the attackers. They were outnumbered and Kevin was soon on the floor having his whole body beaten while someone continuously thrust their fingers into his eyes. They were lucky to get out alive but the next day he realised that his sight wasn’t the same and, after one sneeze, he lost his sight altogether.
After seven months of intense work to try to repair Kevin’s eyesight he eventually had to accept that he would have to live with 4% vision for the rest of his life. Today he is the first British skier ever to gain two world records and a role model to disabled sportsmen and women around the world.
“It’s been a really long and hard journey in all honesty. The initial shock of realising that I wasn’t going to see again and that my life was never going to be the same was a major issue for me to overcome. I went from a perfectly able serving soldier, enjoying life and doing the usual sort of lad stuff to suddenly being without self-confidence, having no job prospects and no self-esteem - to the point where I had no motivation to carry on my life.
“I was depressed and drank myself to oblivion pretty much for three years solid because that was the only thing I saw that I could still do. Eventually my life started to fall apart because the drink had begun to take over and then one day I woke up and thought ‘I just can’t do this anymore’.”
It was around this time, in 2002, when completely by chance Kevin was put in touch with Billy Baxter, the fastest blind motorcyclist in the world.
“It’s a bit of a funny story but my brother’s friend went to fit a carpet for this guy who had left the army a couple of years before being blinded and he was saying how much his life had changed since joining an association called St Dunstan’s.
“He passed his number onto my brother’s mate and said that I should call him. To start with I thought I’m not going to talk to a complete stranger about my life – what does he know? But when I decided to change things I gave him a call and we must have been on the phone for about five hours because it turned out we’d served together in Northern Ireland and we knew some of the same people. All of a sudden there was this big camaraderie thing there and then I realised that it was the camaraderie and the togetherness that I really missed from the army, and so I thought that maybe I can find it again.”
Encouraged by Billy, Kevin decided to join St Dunstan’s, an association that helps ex-servicemen and women who have lost their sight to come to terms with it and regain their independence. It was through them that Kevin was able to go on a ski trip to Canazei in Italy and have another go at the sport he loved.
“When I lost my sight I never thought I’d ski again. I had skied since I was 8 years old and while I was in the army I qualified as a military ski instructor and used to race for my division. However at 22 years old you just enjoy the night out before too much so while most people were warming up in the starting area, I’d be throwing up! It’s all about commitment and maybe if I’d applied myself as much then as I do now then who knows what could have happened.”
It was in Italy that the idea of ‘blind speed skiing’ emerged. “Billy and I were trying to come up with some ideas to get me into the world record books and it basically went from everything from blind crocheting to blind tiddlywinks.
“Then, half way through the night one of the lads made a comment that I was skiing way too fast and that I looked pretty dangerous out there. Billy and I just looked at each other and knew it – ‘speed skiing’. So I climbed onto the bar and announced that I was going to set the world’s first-ever blind speed-skiing record next year in Les Arcs in France. Everyone at the time was like, “Get off the bar, go to bed!” but the next day I started training. I found myself a guide in the shape of Norman Clarke who’s currently on the GB speed skiing team. Twelve months later we had a new world record.
Kevin training at Bromley Ski Centre
“What happens is I ski with my guide, Norman, and he tells me where to race from on the track - where he sees as the fastest and safest line for me to take. Then through the communications system that sits snugly inside my helmet, he tells me to go left or right.”
While Kevin makes it sound so simple, going at speeds of 100mph must be pretty terrifying. “It is scary, without a doubt but I just have to keep practicing my breaking manoeuvres.” And does he ever fall over? “I never talk about falling over!” He laughs, “When I do it’s very spectacular; it’s as if someone’s just thrown a hand grenade into a kit bag; all my stuff goes everywhere!”
Kevin’s mission is far from over. Not only does he spend lots of his time doing charity work for children with disabilities but he is also aiming for Paralympic Qualification in Canada in 2010. “I’ve got some tough training ahead of me. I’ll also be having another crack at beating my world record in Les Arcs in April. I’d really like to reach 105mph. The current able-bodied record is 156mph so I’m only 55 mph behind him at the moment!”
Kevin signs an autograph for a fan
While many have labelled Kevin ‘Cannonball’ Alderton mad for what he does, he is undeniably one of the strongest and bravest men in Kent, if not the country. It is his determination to succeed that has helped him overcome what could have been the end of him. Instead it was the beginning. “In a lot of ways I’ve actually done a lot more things since I’ve lost my sight than when I was able bodied. I’ve even started playing golf and beat a lot of my mates now but I do lose a lot of balls!
“It’s been a tough journey but a great one and hopefully what I’ve done has helped change other people’s lives and perceptions too. For me, it’s just a case of taking up every opportunity and hopefully kick the able-bodied community into touch on the way!”
last updated: 22/05/2008 at 17:19