Miles Hilton-Barber describes himself as a blind adventurer. Prior to being a blind adventurer he was an employment advisor at the RNIB. Naturally my first question was, ‘how do you go from being an employment advisor to an adventurer!?’ His response was that he was inspired by his ‘crazy blind brother’.
The ‘crazy blind brother’ in question set sail in a yacht from Durban, South Africa for Fremantle, Western Australia; totally blind and totally alone. 51 days and 4,300 miles later, via the Southern Ocean including five days in a force 10 gale (which almost took his life) he became the first and only blind person in world history to have sailed across an ocean solo. His brother’s achievement proved to be the ‘kick in the pants’ that led him to make the transition.
‘Growing up, I thought there were two kinds of people in life’ Miles tells me. ‘They were happy people who have no problems and unhappy people who have problems. Then I realised that we all experience problems in life and that our happiness and quality of life is not necessarily dependent on our circumstances, but on our response to them.’
Miles lost his sight around thirty years ago to a genetic, hereditary eye disease. As his sight decreased so did his quality of life. He resigned himself to the fact that he could never again be really fulfilled or really happy due to his sight loss.
Before his brother sailed to Australia everybody told him it was impossible. The reality was that it was possible, it just hadn’t been done before. Miles realised then that he had made a number of wrong assumptions about life and began to look at things differently.
Miles talks a lot about setting goals and having dreams. Your disability should not feature in your goals or dreams he says when talking about looking at what you want to achieve. Once you know what it is you want to do then ‘figure how the heck to do it’. The alternative is that you accept the limitations of others.
He realised that although he had no control over his blindness he did have control over his RESPONSE to it. this made a world of difference to how he then chose to live his life and spend his time.
His first adventure was running five and a half marathons in six days, this despite not having any running experience. By unknowingly using the wrong ointment he burnt his skin before the first marathon and his feet blistered so badly a doctor said he shouldn’t take part. It was while running away from the doctor in question that he tripped and split his knee cap on a rock! Despite being in unbearable pain, he continued with his adventure. He talks of the importance of having good people around you and cites the positive, encouraging approach of his support worker that helped get him through it. They literally took one step at a time and figured if he could take one step then another step was possible and so on.
‘It is simply amazing how much you can achieve by just keeping going, as long as you are pointing in the right direction!’ Miles says. ‘There have been so many times when it has seemed so easy to stop and so hard to keep going. Jon Cook, my sighted guide, and I have learnt over and over and over again that you can keep going long after you think you can’t , either physically or mentally’.
Miles loves a quote and he doesn’t just take a little inspiration from them, Miles lives his life by them! He recites a T.S. Elliott quote, “Only he who is willing to risk going too far will discover how far it is possible to go”. This substantiates what his brother taught him and makes up his personal philosophy for life.
Since that first gruelling series of marathons Miles has achieved countless other achievements. I asked Miles about the challenges he has overcome and he says conquering his claustrophobia whilst scuba diving was one of the biggest barriers he has personally overcome.
He has to pause when asked about greatest achievements as he has so many to consider. He comes back with landing his microlite in Australia, ‘flying above the Opera House in Sydney was pretty special’. His biggest buzz was driving a Lotus around the Malaysian Grand Prix circuit. He describes ‘feeling drunk on adrenalin’ and I can hear it in his voice as he recounts that day.
Miles describes the unknown as ‘exciting’ and his adventures teach him something every time. He doesn’t do things by half, the first time he had skied on snow was in the Antarctic! He says it is very important for us not to be afraid to fail. Taking risks should be encouraged otherwise you will look back on your life and regret what you never tried. As Miles put it ‘you are only as big as the dreams you dare to live’.
Miles makes his living as a corporate inspirational speaker. When I caught up with him recently he had clocked up 36,000 miles speaking in seven countries that month. He is not short of an audience wishing to hear his thoughts on life and his achievements.
When he first went blind he felt he couldn’t be happy but that was how he chose to feel and yet it was not the only way. ‘I’m a great believer that it’s a waste of time bellyaching about things we can’t change in our lives! As they say, if you don’t like something, change it, and if you can’t change it, change your attitude to it.’
Miles remarkable adventures in recent years, setting numerous world records in the process, include:
- First blind pilot to undertake a 55-day, 21,000 kilometre microlight flight from London to Sydney, relying on revolutionary speech-output technology (developed by Software Express) on his instruments for navigation, accompanied by his sighted co-pilot
- Man-hauling a sledge over 250 miles across Antarctica
- Completing “The Toughest Foot-race on Earth” – 150 miles across the Sahara Desert.
- Climbing to 17,500 feet in the Himalayas
- Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt. Blanc- Africa’s/Europe’s highest mountains
- Running the 11-day Ultra-Marathon race across China from the Gobi Desert to the Great Wall
- Completing the “Coldest Marathon on Earth”- the Siberian Ice Marathon
- Competing in the hottest ultra-marathon on earth across Death Valley California.
- Crossing the entire Qatar Desert non-stop day/night in 78 hours without sleep
- Circumnavigating 38,000 miles around the world using 80 different forms of transport
- Setting the Malaysian Grand Prix lap record for a blind driver in a 230kph Lotus
- Setting a new British high-altitude record for a tandem microlight (20,300 feet) with -55 Centigrade open-cockpit temperatures
- White-water rafting down the Zambezi River
- Completing more than 40 skydiving jumps
- Cage-diving with Great White Sharks
- First blind pilot to undertake a sortie of extreme aerobatics in a +600 MPH Hawker Hunter fighter jet with an ex-Red Arrows co-pilot
- Becoming the first blind person to do the solo kamikaze skeleton run down the 5G Olympic bob-sleigh track in Lillehammer, Norway
- First blind person to pilot a 340 BHP performance rated Zap Cat power boat in ocean time trials
- First blind aviator to break sound barrier- attaining speed of Mach 1.4/1,060 MPH during vertical climb to 50,000 feet in just 90 seconds in an English Electric Lightning fighter jet.
- First blind person to participate in a drag-racing event, driving a supercharged machine at Britain’s Santa Pod drag track