A inspirational Hartlepool dad who lost his sight through a rare genetic condition is taking on the Great North Run to help children with cancer.
Russell Welsh was a firefighter in the Royal Air Force when he received the devastating news that he was going blind.
The dad-of-three, from Seaton Carew, was diagnosed with choroideremia in 1994, and has been slowly losing his sight ever since.
But now, along with running guide and life-long pal Andrew Lee, he’s set to tackle the famous half marathon on Sunday, September 11.
Russell was inspired by two brave Hartlepool children, Becky Bell and Josh Dawson, to take on the challenge for charity Children with Cancer UK.
Becky tragically died four years ago, at the age of seven, after battling cancer. Josh, eight, is fighting the disease.
Russell, who now works as an IT service desk manager for Hewlett-Packard, said: “While I was serving in the Royal Air Force, I went for a routine eye test because I was struggling to see a bit when I was driving the fire engines at night.
“I was in Gibraltar at the time and they noticed something strange during the test so I was sent back to the UK to go to an eye clinic in London and that’s when they found it. It’s a genetic condition that only affects males, but it can be carried by females. I was the first man born into my mam’s side of the family for a few generations so it came as a total surprise. There was no known family history of it.
“I slowly lost my sight and I only have 2%-3% of my vision left now.”
Russell says he went through a difficult time when he was first diagnosed.
He said: “At first, I was told that I’d be completely blind within two years and I kind of fell apart. I was drinking heavily and all that stuff, but then one day I just realised that I couldn’t change what had happened and I had to get on with it.”
Russell said what has happened to Josh and Becky drove him on: “I’ve read their stories and about other children going through the same thing and it just makes me realise that, while my daily life might be different now, they’re so much braver than I am. I’ve done the Great North Run and other half marathons before but not since losing my sight, so I’m a bit apprehensive but mostly excited. We want to raise £500 for the charity.”
To sponsor Russell and Andrew, go to uk.virginmoneygiving.com and search for ‘Russell Welsh’.