Blind RAF veteran who can’t walk trains in Edinburgh to be top paraclimber

Garry Cowan is training to become the UK's best blind paraclimberGarry Cowan is training to become the UK's best blind paraclimber
Garry Cowan is training to become the UK's best blind paraclimber
An RAF veteran who lost the ability to walk in an accident and later went blind has entered the gruelling world of paraclimbing in an exceptional feat of endurance and determination.

Garry Cowan fractured his spine in 2003 in a parachute jump while based at RAF Leuchars as an Avionics Engineer.

The spinal injury saw Garry, 37, spend two years relearning how to use his legs through intense rehabilitation, despite being told he was likely to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

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Already struggling in life, Garry suffered a second body blow in 2015 when a bout of chicken pox left him blind.

But he wasn’t prepared to let his sight loss hinder his physical abilities and on a trip to Wales he discovered paraclimbing after a friend asked him to scale Mount Snowdon.

Garry has since worked with Scottish War Blinded, the charity based in Linburn, West Lothian, to gain access to state-of-the-art exercise and rehabilitation equipment at the University of Edinburgh’s world renowned Pleasance centre.

After further training, he is now set to compete at paraclimbing at an international level. Through elite training using apparatus such as an anti-gravity treadmill, combined with his own determination, he is now the second best blind paraclimber in the UK, after just two years in the sport.

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“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 for fun to then climbing at world class level, it’s scary.

“The time at Pleasance is going to be the biggest part of my training. My fitness levels are going to rise and rise and rise. I started to train here just before Christmas and I’ve lost four and a half kilograms in a month.”

The Scottish Paraclimbing Club has also been assisting in Garry’s training at the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena in Ratho, funded by Scottish War Blinded.

Garry, of St Andrews, said: “The funding to get over to Edinburgh and Ratho is phenomenal.
Transport’s the main thing, safety-wise for me as well. It’s essential. It’s a massive help.”

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The veteran is now beginning to work with fellow blinded servicemen and women to introduce them to paraclimbing.

Rebecca Barr, director of Scottish War Blinded said Garry’s story has inspired others to overcome their own hurdles and try the sport.

She added: “Garry’s talent, determination and enthusiasm has already inspired many of our veterans with sight conditions to do things they never thought possible.”

With the paraclimbing European and World Championships on the horizon, his training and preparations will intensify as he sets his sight on the number one spot, which he aims to achieve by March.

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Garry added: “I just want people to know that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. It’s all in the head. I spent long enough trying to walk again after snapping my spine, and that was a mental nightmare.

“I still find what I’m doing really overwhelming. I want to pass anything I can on to veterans, friends – even sighted climbers as well.”

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