Robin Braidwood is something else. The 53-year-old has soldiered on since losing his vision in 2004, departing from a successful engineering career to becoming a competitive runner and massage therapist.The Zimbabwe-born now Sunshine Coast local was diagnosed with Retinitis pigmentosa in his early 20s - a group of rare eye diseases that can lead to permanent vision loss.
“In hindsight I had an eye condition that I should have been aware of. For example, while playing sports in high school I couldn't see if someone was coming to tackle me through my peripheral vision,” Robin said.
“My sight got worse as I got older – narrower and narrower. If I was looking at you, that was all I could see. Everything else was black.
“One morning I woke up 18 years ago to the frolicking birds and noisy cars and I was seeing nothing but full darkness. I thought it was night-time, but I was wrong.”
Becoming a business ownerAs an established engineer, Robin accepted now being totally blind, he would embrace a global search for a career change tailored to the vision impaired.
He was drawn to Remedial Massage Therapy and studied for two years in London with 200-300 students with a vision impairment.
“At the time, I was in the midst of the grieving process and came to realise that's a natural human emotion. What helped me was connecting with likeminded people who also had a story to share, and you could draw inspiration from each other,” he said.
The peaks and valleys still laid ahead for Robin, who had recently immigrated to Australia. At the time there were limited disability support services to lighten the load for Robin and his wife Marian, who also lives with a vision impairment.
“It was tough, it was really difficult. I’d get a little bit of support going shopping. That's all it covered.”
“I have a 13-year-old boy who loves his sports including soccer, rugby, and swimming. So trying to rely on public transport to and from training, matches, was hugely costly and not always feasible to get a taxi on time. You'd have to wait 90 minutes for a taxi while the temperature was plummeting at night time.
“As a result, my son was missing out on the normal joys of an Australian childhood. I felt like a failing father”.
Everything went upwards after NDIS roll outGetting from A to B has been one of the biggest transformations for Robin and his family since the inception of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and the help of his Guide Dogs.
“Now I get a support worker, that's exactly what Just Better Care arranged for me. The support worker will pick us up and take us to medical appointments, clothes shopping or to soccer training. At the footy field, the support worker will sit with me and describe what is happening on the field.”
“I’m getting a picture of what's happening through their eyes. Before hand, I used to have to sit in the corner and not have a clue what was happening on the field. It’s really helped me as a father, in a support and mentor role for my son.”
For the highly goal driven father, Robin was approached by Queensland Guide Dogs to partake in a 20km mud running race – Tough Mudder – and didn’t hesitate accepting the offer.
“I needed a guide runner, someone who was confident to run with me, so I approached a local personal trainer and he agreed. It takes time to build that bond and trust with the person you're running with.”
“I would hold onto a tether, a 30cm piece of rope, Norbert runs on my right-hand side, I can hear where he is, we can chat about what's up ahead - overhanging branch, water obstacle ahead, approaching dog, stepping down in three seconds etc.”
Forming the ‘3 Blind Mice’Three years ago sitting in a local pub with Darryl Munck, the pair grew excited about the idea of rallying together a vision impaired triathlon team, and have gone onto excel in the Noosa and Mooloolaba triathlons – as the ‘3 Blind Mice’.
“I’m so proud of the guys, Darryl and former member Richard, our new member Elizabeth and our guides who embraced the challenge and upped their fitness so we could represent the disability category of the triathlons, in a good light.”
“Just Better Care have even gone out of their way to be one of our sponsors for the 3 Blind Mice. They give us a kit, hats, vests, and pay for entry fees for us all. These competitions can be quite expensive, so we are so appreciative for their support.
“Each year we improve our times and I think largely that is due to the army of volunteers, families and friends who give up their time to help us achieve something amazing.
“When it's race day in Noosa, one of the biggest triathlons in the world, there can be 13,000 competitors racing at the same time. The biggest challenge for me is the noise of the crowd. Take away my hearing and you remove two vital senses. I’m running in blackness and meandering through a surround sound of people cheering you on. This makes it tough communicating with my guide.”
The 3 Blind Mice are currently keeping up their impressive fitness levels in preparation for the Noosa Triathlon, to be held in October 2022.
NDIS Plan Management favours Robin’s lifestyleRobin became a Just Better Care customer in 2019 when the NDIS rollout came to the Sunshine Coast, which has proved a godsend for his activities of daily living.
“As my NDIS Plan Manager, Just Better Care are fantastic. Immediately you receive support from a group of professional people knowing how to help you, knowing exactly how best they can help your needs, on a one-on-one basis, coming out to my home, speaking to me individually, finding out what I was like as a person and the goals I wanted to achieve.”
“Going through the NDIS, it is a pretty complicated scheme, to understand how you can benefit from the NDIS. Just Better Care help me navigate step by step, taking the stress away. Any questions I have, they’re always on the other end of the phone, and having that person you know who have your best interests in mind is a blessing.”
For the impossible task of operating a normal TV for Robin, Just Better Care identified this barrier and purchased a Smart TV with talkback radio through his allocated funds.
“I'd probably still have the old TV if it wasn't for my Plan Manager. It was one small suggestion with a life changing outcome. Now I'm independent, and choose if I want to watch TV by myself.”
“Everything you see on the screen, it will talk back to me, how to stop the movie, pause, rewind etc.”
What’s next for Robin?When reflecting on his undulating journey across three countries, Robin is most grateful he can now just get on with life thanks to the wealth of support from family and service providers like Just Better Care, and to have ongoing goals with the 3 Blind Mice and his massage therapy business.
“This project has meant so much to us. To have each other, to depend on each other and not let one another down. You strive to do your best for your team mates as a friend and competitor.”
Staying independent in the place you love is Just Better with local and experienced NDIS Plan Management. Get in touch with us today.