The word ‘inspirational’ has a tendency to be overused, but there is no denying that it is entirely appropriate when describing Dave Heeley.
Affectionately known as Blind Dave, he gained international recognition for his bid to become the first blind person in the world to have completed the ultimate endurance challenge of seven marathons in seven days on seven continents.
And not content to rest on his laurels, Dave, from West Bromwich, recently completed his Top to Toe challenge, which saw him cycle and run a total of 1,000 miles from John O’Groats to Lands End. Completed over 10 days and averaging 75 miles each day, including running a marathon and cycling to the next destination, Dave has raised an impressive £55,680.94 so far for Macmillan Cancer Support.
It is epic challenges such as these that led to him being presented with an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters at a graduation ceremony this year. The award was conferred in recognition of his inspirational approach to, and considerable contribution towards, charitable causes.
Attending the ceremony, Dave processed from the University’s buildings in the City Centre to the Grand Theatre, accompanied by his wife Debbie, and joined students from the School of Sport, Performing Arts and Leisure who were collecting their award scrolls.
Receiving the award, father-of-three Dave said: “To be standing on this stage amongst a wonderful crowd of people at this graduation awards presentation is an absolute honour. It was mind-blowing for me when I found out, I tried to keep it from my pals as I knew what would happen!
“To be in receipt of such an award is an absolute privilege. I would like to finish by saying I feel very privileged and have two simple sincere words – thank you.”
After the ceremony, Dave explained that the news he was to receive an honorary award came out of the blue, and the accolade came a close second to running a lap around West Bromwich Albion’s ground, the Hawthorns.
At age 10, Dave was diagnosed with an eye complaint called Retinitas Pigmentosa, which meant he was going blind. At 17, despite his career in the army being shattered and all his friends taking driving tests, Dave decided to take a positive route. Regardless of his sight problem, he’s had a varied working career, mainly office bound, other than his short stint on a fork lift truck - he admits he wasn’t always honest about his sight problem. He had his own company for around seven years, distributing suspended ceilings, partitions, dry lining and joinery, and says he loved “the buying and selling but with bad luck, bad debt and bad eye sight, all good things come to an end”.
Enrolling at Queen Alexandra College for the Blind, he achieved skills in Braille, computers, carpentry and wood turning.
Despite his eyesight continually declining, Dave’s life changed overnight when he was introduced to Peter, his first Guide Dog.With renewed confidence, he has had a go at skiing, water skiing, horse riding, cliff jumping, abseiling, and driving motor bikes and even a tank.
After competing in many marathons, including ten consecutive ones in London, Dave completed The Ultimate Challenge - seven marathons in seven days on seven continents - in 2008; the first and only blind person in the world to achieve this. It was the challenge that launched Dave’s new career as a motivational speaker.
His achievements don’t end there. In 2008 Dave (and his running guide) won the Outstanding Sporting Achievement award at the BBC Midlands Sports Awards and he has been invited to functions at Buckingham Palace and the House of Lords in recognition of his charity work.
And what next for Blind Dave? His immediate plans are to take a rest, although he is already in training for next year’s London Marathon.
But no doubt the wanderlust will take hold again soon enough.
To sponsor Dave, visit www.justgiving.com/blinddavestop2toe