By Janine Deane-Dinnis
Brothers, Miles and Geoff Hilton-Barber, born in what was then Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) led an idyllic life growing up. From a young boy, building model airplanes, Miles had a dream of following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a pilot.
Unbeknown to him however, he and Geoff were living with a ticking time bomb. When, at 18, Miles applied to the Rhodesian Air Force, he was turned down due to eyesight problems. Two years later it was discovered this was as a result of a hereditary genetic disease called Retinitis Pigmentosis, which meant both men would gradually lose their sight and eventually become totally blind.
After that devastating news, Miles felt that as a blind man, he would have no quality of life. This feeling was reinforced by the perception of society and his friends and family that blindness was an extremely negative and limiting condition which could never be overcome. He resigned himself to living a restricted way of life, devoid of the ability to experience any of his dreams.
Geoff Sails 4,300 Miles
Even with a happy marriage and 3 healthy children, this state of mind continued until aged 50, he was suddenly jerked out of his victim mentality by the incredible news that his brother Geoff had set sail from Durban, South Africa for Freemantle, Western Australia totally blind and alone, in his home-built yacht.
51 days and 4,300 miles via the Southern Ocean, Roaring Forties, spending 5 days in a Force 10 gale (which almost killed him!) he became the only blind person ever to achieve a world record by sailing singlehandedly across an ocean.
A Mental Shift
This was a real wake-up call for Miles. He realised that the impossible might actually be possible and that being blind need not mean the end of adventures.
He understood for the first time that attitude is everything and it’s not our external circumstances which influence our lives, but the way in which we deal with them.
From that moment on Miles took charge of his life and set out to pursue ‘dangerous dreams’ to become a world-beating achiever.
The Adventure Begins
His first adventure, together with his brother Geoff, was in entering the ‘Toughest Race on Earth!’ the Marathon Des Sable. (Described as an extraordinary race, in an extraordinary place, for extraordinary people!)
Running 156 miles in 6 days through the Sahara desert, facing 50 degree midday heat, sand storms, endless dunes and white hot salt pans, this was truly the test of any person’s endurance.
Although he’d had no real running experience Miles took it on, determined to see it through, even though quite by chance he was given the wrong ointment for his feet which caused them to blister so badly he was instructed by the race medic not to run at all. (Whilst running away from that same doctor who was trying to prevent him entering, he tripped and split his knee on a rock!)
Despite all these setbacks and suffering unbearable pain, Miles continued, and with encouragement from his team mates, his brother Geoff and his sighted guide Jon, he completed the race and knew from that moment on he had a destiny.
He often quotes T.S. Elliott “Only he who is willing to risk going too far will discover how far it is possible to go”, which has since become his personal philosophy for life.
In 2000, Miles attempted an overland bid to reach the South Pole. (Because each person had to carry all their own equipment on a sled, he trained for this by dragging an enormous tractor tyre around his village, to the consternation of the residents!) Although frostbite prevented him from completing the attempt he still became the first blind person to man-haul a sledge 400kilometres across Antarctica.
Miles’ other adventures have been varied.
Miles (together with his sighted co-pilot), flew a microlight plane from London to Sydney, in aid of ‘Seeing is Believing’, a charity restoring the sight of blind children in developing countries. This amazing 55-day 21,000 kilometre journey relied on revolutionary speech-output technology.
Facing snowstorms, torrential rain and freezing temperatures, he said the best part of the trip was flying over the Sydney Opera House, knowing they’d actually made it.
He was also the first blind pilot to fly across the English Channel.
Accompanied by a Red Arrow co-pilot, Miles flew a Hawker Hunter aircraft and broke the world speed record for a blind pilot.
He then became the first blind man to break the sound barrier, piloting a supersonic English Electric Lightning fighter jet in Capetown.
Around the World
In another amazing feat, Miles and his sighted guide circumnavigated the world using 80 different forms of transport – ‘Around the World in 80 ways!’
After training in the Himalayas in an endeavour to become the first blind person to conquer Mount Everest, Miles had to give up the attempt due to oxygen deprivation and was told by doctors never to undertake another mountain climb. However, never say never to a Hilton-Barber, so Miles, together with Geoff and his son Steven, climbed and successfully reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Today, aged 69, Miles is one of the most highly sought-after motivational speakers on the international circuit and has to date spoken at over 1200 corporate events in 71 countries around the world. So many adventures and achievements, too numerous to include here. To read more about this amazing Southern African man go to Miles’s Hilton-Barber official website
Janine is a writer, Copy Writier, Content Marketer and Strategic Planner. Find out more: Amathuba Network
Read another article by Janine: The Plastic Problem