A blind veteran, who overcame a snapped spine and sudden sight loss, has just been ranked second in the UK in his paraclimbing category.
Former RAF Leuchars Avionics Engineer, Garry Cowan from St Andrews, had to learn to walk again after he broke his back in a parachute jump in 2003 and lost his sight in 2015 after contracting chicken pox.
After taking up climbing just two years ago, the 37-year-old has excelled in the sport, and is now travelling from St Andrews to The University of Edinburgh’s Fitness Assessment and Sports Injuries Centre (FASIC) Sport & Exercise Medicine Clinic in Edinburgh twice weekly for elite training with their AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill.
The treadmill, which is used by elite athletes, utilises NASA Differential Air Pressure technology to enhance physical performance. The revolutionary approach defies gravity and can reduce the weight load on joints to as low as 20 per cent.
Charity Scottish War Blinded have been supporting the sportsman on his training journey by funding his taxi transport to the Pleasance Sports Complex & Gym, as well as to the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena (EICA) in Ratho.
And with the national, European and World Championships in Paraclimbing approaching this year, Garry cannot believe he is achieving such a feat.
“If someone had told me I’d be competing at this level two years ago, I would have laughed at them,” said Garry. “It’s just unbelievable – from even thinking about trying climbing out to then climbing at world class level, it’s scary.
“I’ve been searching for this anti-gravity treadmill in Scotland for almost a year. My Scottish War Blinded outreach worker, Carole Martin, helped me to seek one out.”
In December last year, Garry was ranked second in the country for the B1 category, which includes competitors with blindness and most severe vision loss, in the GB Paraclimbing Series – even while suffering a shoulder injury.
Garry said: “Being number two just doesn’t feel real. Even when I’m standing there on podiums, getting all the medals and handshakes – even just speaking about it – it still hasn’t sunk in.”
As someone who coached others in the forces, Garry is a natural teacher, and says he is delighted he has been able to pass on his climbing knowledge and tips to others.
The RAF veteran is beginning to work with other Scottish War Blinded veterans to introduce them to the sport.