Run The World #4 – Dave Heeley

For the fourth in our international runner series, we venture into ultrarunning territory.

In April 2015, British runner Dave Heeley became the first blind athlete to complete the 250 km (156 mile) Marathon des Sables – a course across the Sahara desert known as the “toughest footrace on earth”, equivalent to running six regular full marathons back-to-back. The then 57-year old father of three, known in running circles as “Blind Dave“, completed the six-day challenge running through sand dunes, rocks and dried rivers, contending with temperatures rising up to 50°C during the day and below freezing at night, with all his provisions on his back.

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Marathon des Sables

“Blindness has encouraged me to see another way.”

Dave was running to raise funds for the Albion Foundation, which uses sport to strengthen the local community, helping children and adults with disabilities and learning difficulties to both excel in sport and transit from education to work . He had two guides on the route – Rosemary Rhodes and Tony Ellis. In an interview with British Blind Sport, Heeley was quoted as saying, “Running makes you a bigger part of the community. You never know what it might bring and where it might take you.

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Fundraising for the Albion Foundation

Dave Heeley was born on 24th November 1957. At age ten, he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa – a genetic, degenerative eye condition that causes breakdown and loss of cells in the retina. Beginning with decreased vision at night and in low light, loss of peripheral/tunnel vision, and progressing to total blindness, Heeley lost his vision completely in his twenties. His dream of joining the army shattered, young Dave knew he was going blind, and that his options were to stay negative or positive. He opted for the latter. “Am I going to sit here for the next fifty years waiting for that tree to disappear? No!” He spent years developing skills in Braille, computers, carpentry, and even now loves designing things and building furniture. He used a walking stick initially, until his first guide dog Peter changed his life. The four-legged friend gave him confidence, mobility and adventure.

 

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Dave-Heeley

The monumental feat at Marathon des Sables wasn’t Heeley’s first dip into the record books. In 2008, Dave became the first blind man to complete the Seven Magnificent Marathons challengerunning 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days. His route took him from Port Stanley in the Falkland Isands (Antarctica) to Santiago, Chile (South America), Los Angeles, USA (North America), Sydney (Australia), Dubai (Asia), Nairobi, Kenya (Africa), and ultimately finishing with the London Marathon (Europe). He was 50 at the time. 777 was undertaken to raise awareness for guide dogs for the blind. As Dave described the feat later, ” 7 days and 168 hours, of which 20 hours I slept and approximately 35 hours I ran; the rest was spent travelling. Travelling over 35,000 miles in the air, passing through some 34 different time zones,  running for 183.4 miles in temperatures ranging from -2 to 39°C“. His guide runner Mac was the third sighted person along side Mike Stroud and Sir Ranulph Fiennes to have achieved this superhuman challenge.

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777- start at the Falkland Islands
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777 – completing one of the legs at Dubai
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777 – ending the challenge at the London Marathon

 

“Life is not about what you can’t do, but what you can do.”

In 2011, Dave Heeley ran ten marathons in ten days, travelling from John O’Groats to Land’s End, cycling between each stage. Called “Top2Toe“, the challenge aided the Macmillan Cancer Support in their centenary year.

 

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Preparing for a 100 km cycling event, “Wheels For Change”, with tandem partner and guide Steve Dugmore

In 2016, he learnt swimming because he wanted to undertake “Escape from Alcatraz” – considered the toughest triathlon in the world. At 7.30 am on the morning of the 12th June, Dave along with his guide Tony leapt off the San Francisco Belle moored briefly alongside Alcatraz prison, into the cold, rough shark infested waters of San Francisco Bay, 58 minutes later hitting the beach, transferred onto the tandem and the San Fran hills taking 1 hour 18 minutes, finally donning the trainers hitting the cliffs and sand, taking 1 hour 24 minutes, crossing the finish line. Finally escaping from Alcatraz in 4 hours 14 minutes and 11 seconds, with smiles of relief!

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Prepped for Alcatraz with his guide Tony
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Swimming leg of the Alcatraz Triathlon – with a model shark named after his guide dog Seamus

His sporting endeavors are sponsored by Pertemps, UK, who also donate to his charity which works in partnership with the West Bromwich Albion Football Club, and £1000 are donated for every Great Run he completes. In 2017, since it was his 60th year, he took on the Great Run Series‘ entire world events calendar – starting in Edinburgh and finishing in Ethiopia, all in aid of the Albion Foundation. The series included two full marathons, six half marathons, two 10 mile events, ten 10 ks, one 5 mile race, and four 5 ks. In October the same year, he ran two races on the same day – the Birmingham International Marathon and the Great Birminghim Run. In May 2019, Dave took part in the Velo Birmingham & Midlands 100 mile bike ride, and also the 100 km Wheels For Change cycling event – to help raise funds for UNICEF along with his tandem cycling partner Steve Dugmore. In June this year he ran the Comrades Ultramarathon in South Africa.

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An innovative fund raiser for the “7inSeven” – a series of 7 cycling events across the UK

“I sat down the other day and calculated that, including training, I’ve run about 58,000 miles in my lifetime.”

Dave is always up for challenges. He has gone skiing, water skiing, horse riding, motorcycling, abseiling, but he enjoys nothing more than running! His book “From Light to Dark” was published in February 2016. Veteran record-breaking English explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes has foreworded the inspirational tale of triumph over adversity.

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With copies of his book

 

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7 Days – a short film based on the life of Dave Heeley, released in February this year.
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Guide dog Seamus looks appreciatively at a bus named in Dave’s honor.
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Dr. Dave Heeley, after receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Wolverhampton

Sources:

~www.blinddaveheeley.co.uk

~www.pertemps.co.uk

~www.sundaypost.com

~In The Running – Phil Hewitt

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Blogging Anniversary

This blog-site completes a year today. Woohoo!! Those of you who have been following this site for a while, would be aware that Curious Cat was the outcome of an accident I had last year. For the uninitiated, I suffered from nerve damage and was bedridden for a couple of months – the entire right leg being paralyzed from hip to foot. Being a marathoner and dancer, staying put was more difficult than the actual injury. Books, movies, art and craft, online courses came to the rescue. I did a couple of random courses on Coursera, and began learning Russian on Duolingo. Along with painting, paper quilling and various other home-made crafts, I was aching to create something more. There was too much information input and not as much energy output. I decided to start a blog to write about things I was doing – thoughts on books I read, experiences on races I had run and dance shows I had performed at; just idle ramblings on whatever came to mind.

Curious Cat was named after my pet cats, who are always interested in what’s going on. And having spent much time with all my pets during the recovery period, I noticed how snoopy cats can be – in contrast to the indifference they are usually known for. This blog was not intended to be read by anyone; just a means of putting my thoughts into words. The settings were initially set to private because I didn’t think anyone would want to read any of it. Unlike a travel blog which would interest travellers, or a fitness site that would bring in exercise enthusiasts, or cookery or book blogs which cater to specific reader groups, I have varied interests. I love all of those things and write about all of them, and much more, and that was where the dilemma lay – in finding like-minded people who also share varied interests. About two months after I started Curious Cat, two friends found out about it from a casual conversation and wanted to read. So I had to change the private settings to public. Within a few days, a large number of “followers” cropped up. I had no idea what they were “following” because my “about” section clearly mentions my ramblings, without offering anything specific to follow.

The initial write-ups centered around book reviews and art work since I was reading a lot and crafting some thing or the other at the time. I’m not from a writing background professionally and didn’t know what to write on, besides the topics that randomly came to mind. When I turned the settings public, I also chanced upon The Daily Post and the word-of-the-day they offered bloggers to write on. November and December were spent diligently writing to every word – I didn’t miss a day! I learnt new words, and expanded and expressed on the ones I knew. It was a great initiative for newbie writers, offering them a base from where to grow. Sadly, The Daily Post discontinued this endeavor within a few months of me finding out about them. But I did connect with some like-minded people through the daily prompts, and realized there were many like me who benefited tremendously as non-writers turned somewhat writers, who wanted to continue writing daily. Stephanie from Curious Steph was instrumental in bringing us all together, and in June this year we formed the Ragtag Community – seven of us from around the globe, working in different time zones to fix a word each day for bloggers to write on. The team presently comprises Sgeoil, Margaret from Pyrenees to Pennines, Tracy from Reflections of an Untidy Mind, Mary from Cactus Haiku, Gizzylaw from Talkin’ to Myself, and of course, Steph and me. The ragtaggers recently completed three months and are growing by leaps and bounds with fellow bloggers dropping in daily to share stories, poems, photographs, or just about anything related to their interpretation of the daily prompts. Each of us has our day to fix the prompt, and Margaret has given us today’s word – energy. (For those who would like to participate.)

About two months ago, some reader friends mentioned they found it difficult to navigate Curious Cat for book reviews and literature related articles. So I started Tomes and Tales – a purely literary venture for fellow bookworms. I love reading and there’s always lots to say and share about books and authors. So at the moment, I manage three blog-sites.

At current count, Curious Cat has 211 followers. I still don’t know what everyone’s following since this was never intended to be a technical blog. But I’m glad to have you all here. The stats show I published 389 articles in the last one year, and the blogging community has played a huge role in inspiring me to write more and connect with fellow readers, athletes, musicians and a plethora of individuals with varying interests. It is rightly said, good things can come out of the bad too. The accident and its aftermath was a horrible time for someone accustomed to moving about, but if not for that forced sedentary lifestyle I might never have ventured into the blogging sphere and met so many lovely people out here. Even a year later with all my energy returned, and easing into races and dance shows step by step, I still try keep up with writing almost every day. It has been great connecting with you all. Keep reading and sharing. 🙂

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Warm Bodies – Movie Review

Some casual browsing on Netflix led to a movie titled “Warm Bodies” , described as a horror comedy, featuring Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer and John Malkovich. Surprisingly, this was a 2013 release and I had never heard of it before. The presence of well known actors egged me on to give it a shot, even though I didn’t expect much beyond the regular zombie fare.

“What am I doing with my life? I’m so pale. My posture is terrible. People would respect me more if I stood up straighter. Why can’t I connect with people? Oh, right, it’s because I’m dead.”

The story starts off with “R” (Nicholas Hoult) – introduced as a highly introspective zombie. He has no memories of his past life, his family or friends, how he landed up at an airport, or even his name. Zombies don’t talk; then only grunt. And “rrrrr” is all he can come up with if he tries to speak – hence the default “name”. Narrated in the first person, R is part of an undead horde living at an airport, and has himself taken over an entire plane as his personal space. R considers himself an unusual zombie – he has thoughts but no memories of his former life. And when he feeds on humans, he doesn’t turn them into fellow zombies – preferring rather to consume their brains as well, which leaves them completely dead. In turn, he receives their memories on devouring their brains, an act he considers his only connection to being human – by feeling vicariously through the memories in the brains he consumes.

While scavenging for living humans to feed on one day, the undead face off with Julie (Teresa Palmer) and a group of humans searching for medical supplies to take back to the living. R kills a member from the party who was about to shoot him in the head, and on eating his brains realizes the man, Perry, is/was Julie’s boyfriend – memories of Perry and Julie come rushing into R as he eats. This causes him to share Perry’s feelings for Julie and in turn protect her from the other zombies. He promptly takes her along with him, sharing his airplane “home” and all the items he has scavenged – music records, books, canned food and beverages, showpieces. Julie is his only link to humanity, and R realizes he is getting warmer. Is there hope for a corpse to become alive again? This change also seems to be spreading among the local undead population like a virus – they start to remember and feel, and speak with some effort.

R and Julie have larger issues to face when their friendship is threatened from two opposing parties. Some of the zombies are too far gone – having been undead for a very long time their skin starts too shed, turning them into skeletons called “bonies” , and they are a threat to both other zombies and humans, devouring anything in sight. At the same time Julie’s father, General Grigio (John Malkovich), is the leader of an army of humans out to kill all zombies. The human-zombie duo is consequently caught in a crossfire – unless the humans can be convinced that the zombies are indeed getting warmer, and are not corpses anymore.

A unique take on the possibility of zombies turning into humans again, of the living and the undead sharing space and mutual understanding and acceptance. The story is fresh, fast paced, and an original delight. The movie can be described as a mix of genres with humor, horror, romance, sci-fi and drama all thrown in – and it never seems too chaotic. Nicholas Hoult is hilarious with an understated performance – he is stone faced as a zombie, but his thoughts and introspection reveal a lot of emotions, and his monologues are the highlight of the movie. The scenes of R pretending to be human, and Julie pretending to be a zombie – to blend in with each other’s coterie – are absolutely laugh-out-loud. All of the supporting actors do a tremendous job, including the actors playing the zombies – it is never over the top and the humor comes in at just the right places. The movie is funny without trying too hard, the romance doesn’t come across as clichéd, the popular actors don’t ham their way through (as often happens in these off-beat movies), the effects are well presented (especially the characters of the bonies). “Warm Bodies” definitely brings something original to the zombie genre and deserves to be watched.

From the credits, I also found out that the movie is based on a book by the same name. Isaac Marion’s novel came out in 2010 – described as a zombie romance alluding to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, hence the lead characters of R and Julie pulled apart from both sides by their people. I just downloaded the book on Kindle and will read it over the weekend. If one goes by routine experiences of movie adaptations from books, a movie this good would make the book an obvious must-read. Give the movie a watch too; it’s well worth the time.

My rating – 7/10

Some of the many creative movie posters I found:

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