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May 17 2012
Blind explorer, adventurer and inspirational public speaker, Miles Hilton-Barber will be capturing the imagination of delegates at the BCLA this year. OT’s Chris Donkin caught up
with the man himself to find out what attendees can expect
Cage diving with great white sharks, climbing to 17,300 feet in the Himalayas, hauling a sledge over 250 miles across Antarctica – all amazing achievements for anyone, but all the more outstanding when you learn that these, and many others, have been achieved by a man who is blind.
Miles Hilton-Barber, adventurer and motivational speaker, has done a lot in the last few years, with an outstanding list of tasks completed over land, sea and air he claims modestly, “there’s nothing special about me”.
“Because I am such an ordinary person who has found happiness, fulfillment and success facing adverse circumstances, I’m hoping that at the end of my talk [at the BCLA] people can come away realising that there is nobody without the potential to have that big life change.”
During his talk on the Friday night of the BCLA, organised by patron sponsor Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Mr Hilton-Barber will relay anecdotes from some of his amazing achievements, as well as discuss his outlook on life and how audience members, with a little perseverance and motivation, can do fantastic things.
“I know what a twit I am,” he says. “So, if my life could be transformed in such
a way, the same principles can work for everybody. I’m just a beggar telling another beggar how to get a square meal.
“The key message I’m trying to get across is that all of our lives have got two components; there’s our external lives going on around us that we can’t control and then there’s our response in our head and our heart which we have got total control over.
“Basically, the potential to have that fulfillment in your life isn’t based on what happens to you, it’s based on what you do when it happens to you.”
Having been blind for over 25 years, it was only when he turned 50 that Mr Hilton-Barber felt the inspiration to take on his series of challenging tasks after his brother became the first blind man to sail a yacht solo across an ocean.
“In my case the, unwanted change in my life was going blind, and for years I sat there thinking that because my external circumstances were bad that meant that I couldn’t be happy, fulfilled, or successful in my life.
“It was only at the age of 50 that my brother, who was also totally blind, sailed a yacht that he’d built himself solo from Africa to Australia. He was the kick up the backside for me, helping me realise that actually I was wasting my life waiting for external circumstances to change, when in fact the only place where change was needed was internally. All I needed to do to change the quality of my life was to change my attitude.”
He hopes his audience will see that the only barriers in their lives are those they have accepted themselves.
“We give up too easily in life these days,” he tells OT. “Initially, I wanted to help other blind people to do more, but then I realised that there are two categories of blind people in the world, those who are physically blind and those that have physical sight but may be blind to their potential. Deaf blind woman Helen Keller said an amazing quote: ‘sight without vision is equal to blindness’.
“So one of my goals is to try and open the eyes of the people who have physical sight in the audience, but have little vision of who they are and what they can achieve.”
The fear factor
Over the years, Mr Hilton-Barber has shown his lack of personal limits, not only in taking on such grueling expeditions while blind, but he also suffers from claustrophobia and is acrophobic, making some of his challenges all the more impressive.
“I have two main fears,” he says. “I’m claustrophobic so scuba diving is a major problem, as is being in a supersonic aircraft when you’re strapped into a tiny little cockpit with an oxygen mask and helmet. I didn’t enjoy that and I’m also scared of heights, so abseiling down Table Mountain was very frightening, as is mountaineering, and climbing too.
“But, what I say is whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I was also really frightened about diving on a wreck in the sea 300ft down. Actually finding
and swimming inside the smallest compartment helped me overcome my claustrophobia, I thought. Part of me wanted to scream and panic, but that was one of my biggest achievements in terms of overcoming my own fears.”
His outstanding CV of accomplishments isn’t set to be complete anytime soon, and with more goals to achieve – including an attempt at the land speed record in South Africa in a Ferrari, he wants to inspire people who may be bored in their everyday lives to step out of their comfort zone.
“There is a Danish proverb that says ‘life does not consist in holding a good hand of cards, but in playing a poor hand well’,” he says. “When I first went blind I thought I couldn’t do anything, I had a rubbish hand of cards. My brother, with the same hand of cards was an amazing success. Everyone in the audience [at the BCLA] has got a winning hand and some will sit back waiting for a better one, but we don’t need an ace to be successful.
“The simple recipe that I’ve stumbled on for life is just four steps: dream, decide, plan and persevere. Have a dream and make a decision to do it.
“What I say to people is don’t start with your circumstance, start with your goals in life. Up to the age of 50 I was always starting with the fact I’m blind. What can a blind man do? Then my brother taught me a lesson.
“I’d say to people who are just cruising along doing nothing with their life, ‘come on, have you got any dreams or anything you want to do before you die and if so, why the heck haven’t you done them?’ People start complaining about finances and the economy and things like that, but they have to stop wasting time – I wasted 30 years of my life waiting to get my sight back again until I realised that actually, the only thing holding me back was my attitude.
“Not giving up is a big thing as well. Lots of people in life, maybe in their early years, test something and fail and think ‘maybe I can’t do it’ and other people say they are no good at something. I’m saying go back, push the limits and you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve.”
Miles Hilton-Barber will be speaking at the BCLA on Friday, May 25; to reserve your place, email Jan.firstname.lastname@example.org
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