Sheffield blind runner ready for Olympic challenge - VIDEO

‘INSPIRATION’ is not a word Simon Wheatcroft likes to bandy about, writes health reporter Ben Spencer.

“For me this is just everyday life,” the South Yorkshire dad told The Star.

Distance work: Simon Wheatcroft takes to the road. Photo: Cherryduck Productions.

Distance work: Simon Wheatcroft takes to the road. Photo: Cherryduck Productions.

“But then every few weeks I get contacted by someone who says they have seen what I have done, and been fired up to do something similar.

“So maybe I have been a kind of trailblazer. It was never about being ‘inspirational’. I don’t see it like that at all.”

But if ever the word inspirational was created for one person, it was for Simon.

The 29-year-old is an ultra runner, an athlete who specialises in running distances longer than a 26.2-mile marathon.

Fifty miles, 80 miles, 100 miles - this is the bread and butter of Simon’s sport.

Running incredible distances is impressive enough - but what makes Simon’s endeavours truly exceptional is the fact that he is blind.

VIDEO: Press the play button to watch a special video report about blind runner Simon Wheatcroft.

“I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa when I was 14,” said Simon, who lives with his wife Sian, 28, and son Grayson, 19 months, on Elm Lane, Rossington, near Doncaster.

“It is a genetic disease which gradually takes away your vision.

“I was registered blind when I was 17.

“It gradually got worse through my 20s, and in the last couple of years I’ve got to the stage where I’ve lost most of my central vision and have to use a cane.”

Simon can still make out shapes in bright sunlight, but has lost colour definition, all his peripheral vision and is completely blind at night.

Despite being barely able to see, Simon trains for his long runs outside, by himself.

“I started running about two years ago, just after my son Grayson was born,” he said.

“My wife was out and I just decided to go out to the playing fields behind my house and start running.

“I didn’t really consider it a risk - I just did it.”

Simon would run from one end of the pitch to the other, using the two sets of goalposts as a marker.

“I got bored of that, running up and down a football pitch, so decided to go out on the road.”

Over the next four months Simon learned a six-mile route off by heart, using the shape of the pavement as a guide.

“There’s a closed-off road out towards Doncaster Airport and very few people ever go along there.

“I run along the road, then onto the dual carriageway, then along this very quiet footpath that doesn’t really go anywhere.

“The pavement arcs up in the middle, so if I make sure I’m at the top of the curve I know I’m okay.

“I do the route again and again - maybe three or four times.”

All that training is to come into its own over next few months.

Simon, who is studying for a psychology degree at The University of Sheffield - a decision he made after being made redundant from his school IT job - has a busy summer ahead.

On May 27, Simon is running the Sheffield Half Marathon with thousands of others.

But when everyone else finishes their 13.1-mile route he will keep going, for another 26.2 miles, then another 13.1 miles after that.

“It’s a marathon sandwich!” he said. “A half marathon, then a marathon, then another half marathon - 52.4 miles.”

Then, on June 26, Simon will be carrying the Olympic torch through Armthorpe, watched by thousands of people.

Simon said: “We all talk about events being a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’, and we usually don’t actually mean it.

“But carrying that Olympic torch through my local area, in a year of a home games, is truly an opportunity that only comes around once in a lifetime, if ever.

“It will be amazing.”

The biggest challenge of all, however, will come three days later, when Simon takes on the 100-mile South Downs Way, a route he hopes to complete in under 24 hours.

“When I started running I was trying to prove something to myself,” he said.

“I wanted to show that, as a blind person, I could do things people didn’t think were possible.

“I suppose it has become a platform to show that anything can be done. But inspirational? That’s not a word I like to use.”