A blind Fife veteran who overcame a snapped spine and sudden sight loss is scaling new heights.
Former RAF Leuchars engineer Garry Cowan, from St Andrews, had to learn to walk again after he broke his back in a parachute jump in 2003.
He lost his sight in 2015 after contracting chicken pox.
After taking up climbing just two years ago, the 37-year-old has excelled in the sport and will compete at the European and World Paraclimbing Championships later this year, ranked second in the country in his category.
With the support of the Scottish War Blinded charity – and space age technology – Garry said he cannot believe he is achieving such feats.
“If someone had told me I’d be competing at this level two years ago, I would have laughed at them.
“It’s just unbelievable – from even thinking about trying climbing for fun to then climbing at world class level, it’s scary.”
An anti-gravity treadmill at Edinburgh University’s Fitness Assessment and Sports Injuries Centre (FASIC) Sport and Exercise Medicine Clinic is a key element to Garry’s training.
He gets to the centre thanks to funding from Scottish War Blinded – a charity supporting blind veterans and veterans with sight loss, of which he has been a member since 2016.
The treadmill, which is used by elite athletes, utilises NASA Differential Air Pressure technology to enhance physical performance.
The revolutionary approach defies gravity and can reduce the weight load on joints to as low as 20%, aiding with rehabilitation and allowing a quicker return to running programmes.
Scottish War Blinded also pays for his weekly transport to the Edinburgh Indoor Climbing Arena with the Scottish Paraclimbing Club.
Garry said: “Transport’s the main thing, safety wise for me as well. It’s essential. It’s a massive help.”
In December, Garry was ranked second in the UK for the B1 category, which includes competitors with blindness and most severe vision loss, in the GB Paraclimbing Series – even while suffering a shoulder injury.
Garry said: “Being number two just doesn’t feel real. Even when I’m standing there on podiums, getting all the medals and handshakes – even just speaking about it – it still hasn’t sunk in.
“It’s a real sense of community and supporting each other amongst paraclimbers, that’s what I like so much about the sport.
“And when I’m climbing, it’s the boost and the thrill of just getting to the top and knowing I’ve done it.”
As someone who coached others in the forces, Garry is a natural teacher, and says he is delighted he has been able to pass on his climbing knowledge to others.
He is beginning to work with other Scottish War Blinded veterans to introduce them to the sport, and gave an inspirational speech to fellow members at The Gathering, the charity’s annual members’ conference, in October 2018 .
“I just want people to know that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it,” Garry said.
“It’s all in the head. I spent long enough trying to walk again after snapping my spine, and that was a mental nightmare.
“I still find what I’m doing really overwhelming. I feel really humbled to be doing it. I want to pass anything I can on to veterans, friends – even sighted climbers as well.”