For most people, losing your sight would be devastating, but for former hot air balloon pilot Michael Scholes, it hasn’t stopped him from accomplishing great things.
Scholes lost his sight 11 years ago due to a rare genetic condition, but next summer he will be part of a team flying across the Atlantic Ocean from Canada to the UK in a hot air balloon.
The 65-year-old will be joined by Deborah Day to complete the epic challenge, and although Deborah will be the one flying the balloon, Michael still has a important role to play in the mission.
Speaking to Bristol Live during the second day of the 2018 Bristol Balloon Fiesta, Deborah said she wouldn’t be able to complete the challenge without Michael by her side, which is expected to take between five and 10 days.
Scholes lost around 85 per cent of his vision within a few weeks in 2007, thanks to a rare genetic condition called Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON).
Prior to this, he was an accomplished hot air balloon pilot who held five British records for flight duration and distance.
Scholes began his hot air balloon training while serving in the Royal Navy and as a result, his Atlantic flight with Deborah will be raising money for Blind Veterans UK.
At first Michael found his diagnosis hard to cope with, as it meant he had to sell his hot air balloon ride business alongside adapting to having a disability.
However, since teaming up with Deborah and helping her gain her pilot’s license, he’s found a new way of enjoying ballooning as a co-pilot and is just grateful to be able to take to the skies once more, even if he does miss flying himself.
Scholes said, “I would love to be able to fly independently. I do get frustrated at the lack of independence – I can’t just get in a car and go, for example. I’m very much looking forward to buying a driverless car.”
You can follow Deborah and Michael’s adventure on Facebook.