How Nathan's loss of vision opened a new world of opportunity

Published on 10 Sep 2020

APM WorkCare's Amanda Johnston stands with Nathan in an APM office

"If I didn't have a disability, I would just be an ordinary person going to work and coming home."

From losing his sight, to entering into professional sport, to coming second in the world in his division at the

Hawaiian Ironman World Championships, Nathan Johnston has achieved a lot - and credits his vision impairment for the opportunity.

Speaking to health professionals from APM and Konekt as part of the Lockdown Live series of guest talks,

Nathan recalled how he was 7 years old when diagnosed with retina pygmatosa and told he would likely lose his sight gradually, over many years.

Unfortunately, the specialists were wrong. Nathan was legally blind by the time he was 15.

As a kid, Nathan’s mates always included him and his vision aids were just another toy to play with.

When it came to high school, doing all his lessons in braille and wanting to play rugby was harder. But this is when Nathan found his passion for sport.

Joining APM for the talk in Sydney, Nathan described how he developed his love of ocean swimming, and transitioned to tandem cycling and running - all without sight.

Demonstrating how he pairs with his guides when training and racing, Nathan told his audience how goal setting was an integral part of his sporting achievements.

He described how running without sight has both advantages and disadvantages.

Four people running up a hill smiling to the camera

In the case of the Balmoral Burn - a run straight up the hill Balmoral with a 10% gradient - everyone told Nathan how steep it was, but without being able to see this for himself, Nathan said he was fearless - until the end when he was VERY ill at the finish line!

The next natural progression for Nathan having mastered swimming, cycling and running was triathlons.

Nathan even caught the eye of Tony Abbott, with the former prime minister running multiple marathons and fun runs alongside him. Nathan also had the honour of leading the City2Surf in the number 1 bib with Mr Abbott.

Due to crowds and interference, Nathan required five guides to help him along the course, and explained how everything he does requires a real team effort.

Throughout his talk, Nathan emphasised the importance of community, support and asking for assistance. The multiple charity runs and fundraising is Nathan’s way of giving something back.

Nathan detailed his road to Kona, Hawaii for the Hawaiian Ironman World Championship - and how the little things - immense heat, cars driving on the other side of the road - really upset his psyche and confidence.

It didn’t shake him though. Nathan was second in the world in his division, in a race many fail to even complete.

Thanks for coming in and sharing your journey to date Nathan - what an inspiration! We will all be following you closely in your future endeavours!

Nathan’s lasting message for the team was simple - “live life large and embrace change or get left behind!”