Last week I met a truly extraordinary man. His name is Steve Cunningham, and he heads up an organisation called Blindvision (www.blindvision.tv). I strongly urge you to hit the website and read his story.
Steve lost his sight at the age of 12, shortly after being identified as a promising young footballer with dreams of playing for Aston Villa. Over a matter of a few weeks he changed from being active, confident and sporty to being utterly reliant on others for everything. Frightened and angry, no longer able to use his athletic body with confidence in a world he could no longer see, and knowing that he would never see the faces of his family and friends again. At 12. Try and imagine that, just for one moment.
This was the 1970’s when ‘equal opportunities’ wasn’t even a recognised phrase. Steve was told that if he was lucky, he would get a job making baskets in a factory – and that could have been that. Instead, Steve has spent his whole life proving everyone wrong about the limited expectations they – as individuals and as a society – so quickly placed on him. From earning a business qualification and working in a bank, to playing for the England Blind Cricket Team, to training (at last!) with Aston Villa and leading the England Blind Football Team to the World Cup, Steve is already an inspiration on those achievements alone.
But here’s where Steve’s story really turns it up a notch. Steve got the fundraising bug, and started setting himself increasingly stretching challenges, culminating in what he called the Hat Trick Challenge at the end of the nineties. During the course of completing the Hat Trick Challenge Steve broke the land speed record for a blind man (over 180mph round the track at Silverstone), and broke the water speed record (over 200mph). The challenge culminated in Steve becoming the first blind pilot in the world to fly a light aircraft, which he took around Britain over a five day period. Wow – you really have to listen to him explain how he pulled that one out of the hat!
When Steve speaks he refers to “the disability I’m supposed to have.” He explains how everything he now does is designed to challenge organisations and individuals to break down their barriers of perception, realise what a postive mental attitude can achieve, and create new opportunities for themselves. He takes his message into schools, colleges and businesses, helping people discover a new outlook, and how to be a ‘doer’ not a ‘waiter’.
As a coach, the concept of how a person’s attitude shapes their outcomes in life is a core belief of mine, coupled with a certain and true knowledge that in order to achieve what you set out to achieve, it is your self belief and your willingness to make change happen that makes the difference between success and failure. Steve lives and breathes that ethos from a set of circumstances that are as stretching as they come, which is why I am inspired to blog about him today. As Steve says, viewing absolutely everything that comes your way in life as an opportunity completely changes your perception. So, for Steve, becoming blind became the opportunity he needed to live a life less ordinary, raise millions for charity, and positively influence other people to be extraordinary too.
So, that ‘thing’ that bugs you, that scares you, that you dislike about yourself… if you, like Steve Cunningham, viewed that as an opportunity…how would that change things for you, right now?
And more importantly, what are you going to do about it?