Soldier blinded in gang attack claims world skiing record
Saturday 15 April 2006
It is a precipitous French piste dubbed the "Flying Kilometre" that can fill the most experienced skier with undiluted terror. But a blind former soldier, Kevin "The Cannonball" Alderton, hurtled down the Les Arcs slope at more than 100mph yesterday to set a new world record for a blind person.
Mr Alderton, 34, who has four per cent vision after losing his sight in 1998, hit a top speed of 100.94mph, completing the 1.1-mile slope in two minutes 21 seconds at nearly twice the speed of the previous record.
"I feel absolutely amazing. It just goes to show disability is no barrier to achievement, be it the ordinary or the extraordinary," he said.
"I have between four and six per cent vision but why should that stop me doing anything? It's an inconvenience rather than a disability for me. The sky really is the limit."
Mr Alderton, from Dartford, Kent, who was a keen skier while serving with the Grenadier Guards and the Honourable Artillery Company, was guided by a "shadow" skier who relayed instructions to him through an earpiece in his helmet as he made the descent.
Mr Alderton, married with a son who is nearly two, lost his sight after being attacked by a gang while trying to help a woman being assaulted.
The group of about 30 men punched and kicked him to the ground in the incident in Islington, north London, after which he suffered detached retinas, dislodged lenses and a split cornea. He said he contemplated taking his life after the attack.
Mr Alderton, who resumed skiing shortly after the assault, has since been selected for the Great Britain Adaptive Ski Team Development Squad and hopes to compete in the World Championships in 2008 and the Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver in 2010.
He became involved with the St Dunstan's charity, which helps blind ex-serviceman, through which he met Billy Baxter, who set a world record for riding solo on a motorbike at 164mph.
Mr Alderton, who began skiing aged eight, said his friendship with Mr Baxter had inspired him to get back on the slopes. "I became hell-bent on skiing to my full potential and thought, 'What if I could set a speed record?'"
He added that he became determined not to let the disability impede his life.
"What saved me was St Dunstan's and being determined not to let my disability stop me achieving things. If I can inspire somebody to do something they would not normally do, my aims have been achieved.
"Of course, I would like to have my sight - but if I can help other people realise that being blind is not the end of your life, that means a lot."
His skiing team, which included Sgt Vicky Caress and Major Neil Graham, started training on dry ski-slopes last year. Sgt Caress, who was Mr Alderton's guide during the challenge, admitted she felt nervous minutes before he undertook the attempt.
"Kevin had a lot of trust in me and wanted me to act as his guide. I felt very nervous but if Kev was going to do it then I couldn't really make an excuse," Sgt Caress said.
Mr Alderton travelled to Les Arcs in January to begin his training with Norman Clark, his coach and a member of the British speed skiing team.
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