By Becca Husselbee
A man who lost his sight to a debilitating eye condition has found love with a fellow climber who has now become his eyes.
Richard Slocock, 38, from Shelton Lock, Derby, was devastated after being eventually diagnosed with macular dystrophy in 2015 after his eye rapidly deteriorated and now only has peripheral vision.
Richard, who had been climbing for over 12 years, found it difficult to come to terms until he met partner, Keely Fowkes, who has helped him achieve his dream climbing for team GB and is now his eyes on the rock face.
Richard, who works for car company, Rolls Royce, said: “Back in 2013 I found that I couldn’t see the cursor on my computer screen and decided to book an eye appointment.
“Before that I had 20/20 version but when I closed my right eye, there was a whole in my version of my left eye.
“I was referred to different hospitals before eventually in 2015 I was diagnosed with juvenile macular dystrophy.
“It’s like being able to see everything and nothing. I can see with my peripheral vision but my eyesight is still deteriorating and I don’t know how bad it will get.
“Within five years and I had pretty much lost my sight and the day I was told I had the condition they registered me visually impaired and took my driving license away.
“It’s something I have accepted but never really came to terms with.
“I had a breakdown not long after, I had to have a few weeks off work and even when out and started buying things I had always wanted.
“I was determined to make the most of the time I had left with the sight I had, so a year before they took my license I bought a nice car to enjoy, I bought an expensive watch and lots of artwork.”
Macular Dystrophy is a rare genetic eye disorder that causes vision loss, it affects the back of your eye, or retina and leads to cell damage in an area called the macula, which controls how you what a person sees in front of them.
Richard’s life was completely changed when he met partner Keely, a 32-year-old teaching assistant, through their love of climbing and she would go on to become his guide when training and competing.
Keely helps Richard with day to day tasks but also encouraged him to try out for a place on the GB para climbing, something he didn’t even know existed.
Richard said: “I wouldn’t be able to survive without her and was disability doesn’t bother at all.
“When you’re a single guy you start to think, ‘who is going to want me like this?’, but for Keely, it was never an issue.
“Even to the point where she forgets, She’ll as me what I think of certain things and I have to remind her I can’t see them.
“She’s been a breath of fresh air after everything.
“She is my eyes when I’m climbing and I’m very competitive, so sometimes she takes the brunt of it.
“She pushed me to compete and pushed me to train harder and harder.”
Richard now goes for yearly tests and is part of a program designed to test the genetic makeup of his family to one day find a cure.
Later this year he will compete for Team GB in Paraclimbing championships in Innsbruck, Austria, at the European Masters event, in July, and in September at the World Championships.
“It was the beginning of some dark days, but with the support from my partner, Keely Fowkes, my family and friends, and lots of counselling, I am getting through it.
“I’ve finally come to terms with my sight loss.”