Deafblind dad setting big goals

By Steve Deane

Phil Thorn says Helen Keller an inspiration for his 160km Lake Taupo cycling ambition.

Phil Thorn says the challenge of training towards the cycling circumnavigation of Lake Taupo has been as much mental as physical.
Phil Thorn says the challenge of training towards the cycling circumnavigation of Lake Taupo has been as much mental as physical.

It has been five years since bacterial meningitis changed Phil Thorn's life forever. The 44-year-old father of two spent a month in a coma.

When he emerged from it, he was deaf, blind and partially paralysed.

In November Mr Thorn will complete the 160km Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, a goal he was been working towards for more than four years.

"The challenge has been as much mental as physical to get to this point," said Mr Thorn, who can speak but receives information through touch and via digital braille technology.

He's hoping his Taupo circumnavigation alongside - or more accurately just behind - riding buddy Neil Davis on a custom-built tandem bike will help inspire some of the other 1500 Kiwis who suffer deafblindness.

"I want to use [it] as a means to inspire others to not be limited in any way by their circumstances," he said.

The training hasn't been easy, but he's thoroughly enjoyed it.

"It's taken a bit to get used to the asymmetrical way of cranking, but I love getting out around Hutt City with my riding buddy.

"We're being noticed by a number of locals along the route as we train three afternoons a week. Some wave out and smile, so my buddy tells me.

"We have ... signs worked out that are communicated through my feet, the most important sign being the dairy for an ice cream."

On Thursday he will take time out of his training schedule to celebrate Helen Keller Communication Day, a globally observed celebration of the profoundly deaf and blind American academic, political activist and disability advocate who became the first deafblind person to earn a university degree in 1904.

"Helen Keller totally inspires me," Mr Thorn said. "She struggled a great deal with the ability to communicate verbally, she also lived at a time the technology we now have wasn't even a remote possibility.

"She soared above her physical challenges, achieved so much and left a legacy for us who follow on to overcome."

Keller visited New Zealand in 1948 to meet members of the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind.

Talking to the world

Helen Keller Communication Day
*Celebrated globally on June 27, the birthday of the profoundly deaf and blind author, political activist and academic
*About 1500 Kiwis are affected by deafblindness
*The Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind provides habilitation and rehabilitation services to around 11,500 New Zealanders who are blind, deafblind or have low vision.
*Each year nearly 1200 New Zealanders who have become blind or experienced serious sight loss register as RNZFB members

- NZ Herald

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