Blind golfer Andy Sellars is preparing to defend his World title in Canada. He tells Catherine Scott about his challenges and carrying that torch.
Andy Sellars was just 17 when he started to lose his eyesight.
For anyone the news would be devastating, but for Andy, a successful footballer, it was hard to take.
“At first I didn’t let on,” admits the 41-year-old who was registered blind nine years ago.
“I was struggling to read stuff off the blackboard at school during my A-levels. I went to the optician and they tried different lenses but nothing made any difference.
“A lot of people didn’t know I had a visual impairment and that’s something I regret.
“I felt that if I told people they would treat me differently. Now I realise that the more you talk to people and explain what is happening to you the more help you get.”
That is one of the reasons he is happy to give talks about his life, to inspire people and to raise awareness of the issues that surround people with sight loss.
Eventually Andy had to admit it to himself and to others and was forced to give up the football he loved.
“As a 17-year-old who lived for sport I was completely gutted. I could no longer control the ball and realised I had to give up.
“But as you grow older you start to realise there are other things in life.”
Originally from Morley and now living in Wakefield with his wife Amanda and two young children, Grace, five, and Isaac, three, Andy has a rare genetic condition, Stardagts Macular Dystrophy.
It is a rare, inherited form of macular degeneration. Progressive vision loss usually starts before the age of 20 years, and there is currently no available treatment.
The condition usually leads to complete loss of central vision at a young age.
It means that Andy has large gaps in his central vision, although if he alter the way he looks at things he can make out certain objects. But it means he cannot drive and had to give up his dreams of being a footballer. To be registered blind you must be unable to read the top of the sight chart at the optician’s from six yards away.
“I can’t see it from two yards away.
“No-one can remember any one in our family having my condition,” says Andy.
“Apparently both parents have to have the defective gene for a child to get the condition.”
His eyesight deteriorated quickly, resulting in him being registered blind in 2003.
But Andy hasn’t let his condition dictate his life.
“I haven’t let losing my sight hold me back from the things I want to achieve in life,” he says. “I am quite a postive person and I approach work like I approach life.”
Andy works full time as a Business Support Director for Barclays, using specially adapted equipment including a special mobile phone which reads out his messages and takes photographs of letters and reads them back to him, a large monitor screen and special software which magnifies print to 12 times its original size.
He took up golf in 2001 as a way of encouraging his father-in-law out of the house after his wife died.
“With the help of my father-in- law and binoculars to see where I was going we managed,” recalls Andy.
In 2005 he stumbled across the English Blind Golf Association.
“I wondered where I fitted in, so I joined and realised that I wasn’t too bad at it.”
‘Not too bad at it’ was rather an understatement, with the natural sportsman winning numerous golfing competitions, before competing in the B2 World Blind Golf Champion competition in 2010.
“It was very exciting. I was in a sudden death play-off with the existing world champion from South Africa.It was simply amazing – I can’t wait to defend my title,” he says.
And he won’t have to wait long with the biannual event being held in Canada on July 10.
Golf is obviously a challenge for Andy.
“If I look at a golf ball I can’t see it, but if it is three or four feet away I can see something white and fuzzy.”
So he needs a friend, Martyn Wright, to assist him.
“Martyn stands behind me. He points to the middle of the fairway and that’s the line I will hit it in.
“We then talk about club selection, I will pace up to the hole and get a rough idea of the lie of the land. If it goes in, it’s a good shot.”
Andy regularly raises funds for the England and Wales Blind Golf Association, of which his hero Lee Westwood is patron.
He got to meet Westwood when he was a guest at the BBC Sport Personality of the Year award.
Andy recently held his first annual golf day at his local course in Normanton Wakefield. The event has raised over £8,000 including match funding by his employers Barclays.
He even challenged golfers to play blindfold so that they were like him.
He gives regular talks and will be doing one later this month at Crofton Academy Scjool to speak with visually impaired children around positivity and success in life with a visual impairment.
He has also been selected as an Olympic torchbearer after his wife nominated him and will be carrying the flame through Ackworth Moor Top during its 8,000-mile journey on Monday.
Nominating Andy, Amanda said: “The achievements Andrew has made are numerous, winning all manner of events, NPower Disabled Sportsman of the year 2009, being Order of Merit Champion for England.
“He has given talks about his condition and how he has been able to see the world differently and not let his sight hold him back to try and encourage people with disabilities to take risks and not give up.
“I feel Andrew would be a perfect candidate for torch bearer to show that life continues and can be amazing with or without a disability.”
Andy is thrilled and said: “There is no greater honour for me than carrying the Olympic torch through the district in which I live, celebrating with my friends, family and the local community.
“I want the torch to be a symbol to encourage other people with disabilities to take risks and never give up on what they want to achieve.”
• To find out more about Andy’s fund-raising, visit this address.