On Having the Courage to Expect Success
When 11-year-old school-boy Ethan Loch starts at his new school he’ll have to make 30 minute train journey and cross two busy roads when he. As if Ethan’s mother wasn’t worried enough about her baby going to big school, Ethan’s also blind.
You might have heard Ethan on Radio 4’s Batman and Ethan last week. He’s a profoundly talented young musician, who workied his way through the entire first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata before he was four (this was two years before he had functioning language) and earned two top music prizes at the Glasgow Music Festival last year. But when Ethan won a place at the prestigious music school St Mary’s, in Edinburgh (the first blind student to do so) his proud mother wondered how he’d negotiate the daily journey and asked for help from “Batman” Daniel Kish.
Kish’s eyes were removed when he was a baby because of retinal cancer, but this had little effect on his mobility. Like any thirteen month old he wanted to explore the world around him, and he therefore developed a method of clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth and listened to the clicking sound bouncing off surfaces. His brain then constructed images from the sounds. By the age of six Kish could ride a bike down the road. Now in his 40s he’s a keen rock climber.
Kish’s clicking is similar to that employed by bats – it’s called echolocation. Neuroscientists conducting experiments on Kish found that when he clicks, he activates the visual part of his brain.
In 2013 The Journal of Neuroscience published the findings from an experiment on a person whose visual cortex was no longer functioning. He was exposed to photographs of people with their gaze directed either towards or away from him, in an fMRI machine. Scientists noted that the photographs with the gaze directed towards him caused activity to increase in the amygdala (the brain’s integrative centre for emotions, emotional behaviour and motivation).
You see, it turns out we don’t see with our eyes; we see with our brain. We can “see” the environment or someone else’s actions even if the ability to visually see has been destroyed.
I’m fascinated by stories of people overcoming the seemingly impossible. Martine Wright survived the 2006 7/7 bombings and was one of the last people to be rescued from the underground train she was traveling in, having lost 80% of her blood. Later that day she lost both her legs, when they were amputated above the knee. Martine went on to compete in sitting volleyball at the Paralympics at London 2012 and is a sought-after public speaker.
Shortly before the anniversary of 7/7 bombings, in an interview for The Independent, she says an extraordinary thing. “In some ways it was the best thing that ever happened to me. No, I can’t say ‘best’ thing. That’s not quite right. It was the most life-changing thing that has had such profound and positive effects”
Martin goes on to describe how the events that cost her her legs gave her life meaning saying “it gave meaning to what happened. It gave me huge strength and I’ve still got it.”
Since I hired him for an event, I’ve become friends with double amputee Chris Moon, who’s raised thousands for charity doing ultra marathons and crazy physical feats. A former Army officer, Chris is one of the few westerners who survived being taken hostage by Khmer Rouge guerrillas. As if he’d not got himself into enough bother, he was working for the Halo Trust, clearing landmines in Mozambique in 1995, when he was blown up. He survived against all the odds, losing his lower right arm and leg. Within a year of leaving hospital he’d run the London marathon and attained a Master degree in Security Management. He’s now returned to school, training for a diploma in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. He decides whether his day’s going to be a good one by choosing whether to focus on his hand or his hook.
Chris, Martine, Daniel, Ethan and others like them challenge the concept of limitation and prove that you can take whatever life throws at you, assimilate it and transform it into powerful energy to redirect your life and become who you need to become.