Ben Felton talks with Ross Greenwood about his amazing achievements and how he won’t let being blind hold him back.
Introduction – Australia’s fastest blind man
Ross Greenwood: Welcome back to Work. Life. Money right around Australia. Can I just say, you might have a few grumbles in your life. Well, don’t have those grumbles because generally, look, everybody got issues. We know that. The truth is, you got to understand that some people overcome, perhaps, even more significant issues, then what you are encountering in your life. In fact, some people might have what others deemed to be a disability but they make the most of them, embrace them. Don’t let life get in the way. That’s my next guest.
Now, think about this. Think about the fact about that you suddenly are diagnosed in your teens with a degenerative eye disease. Now in this case, Ben Felton was pretty much 13 in his early teens. Had a motorbike accident. He was trail riding at that time but it was then diagnosed- a doctor’s rather diagnosed him with retinitis pigmentosa. As a result of that, all aspirations, all ideas as to where his life might have gone, changed. I’ll tell you what, there’s an issue in his mid-20s when, I don’t know, something dawned on it. Let’s get him on the line right now. Good day Ben, how are you doing?
Interview with Bob Felton
Ben Felton: I’m going great Ross.
Ross Greenwood: Tell me, what was your ideal job going to be when you’re a kid growing up?
Ben Felton: My dream as a kid was to join the Australian Navy and become a marine engineer. In fact, at 15 and a half I passed the entrance exam and that’s when I had the motorcycle accident that changed my life dreams.
Ross Greenwood: Just explain, was it the motorcycle accident that actually caused the disease? Or was it the fact that the disease was there but was only discovered once you’d had that motorcycle accident?
Ben Felton: No. I’ve got a genetic condition but it was actually the motorbike accident that actually discovered that I had this degenerative eye condition. Unfortunately no one else in our family knew that. We weren’t aware of that eye condition. So, turned it quite a surprise to all of us.
Ross Greenwood: As you’re going on, life becomes increasingly more difficult, as your eyesight degenerates. At what point do you start to lose your sight? Or do you lose your sight completely?
Ben Felton: Well, Ross, I’m actually totally blind now. I haven’t been able to see anything in the past five years. I have no sight, not even light perception. I continued to ride, and drive, and live that, so called normal life, until I was about 25. And at that stage my tunnel vision was about 120, 130 degrees, the tunnel vision. Gradually it continued to deteriorate from the outside in. I was always able to see really clearly, so had great acuities right up until the very end. My left eye finally gave up the ghost one day when I was 32. And again one morning I woke up and I’ve heard the birds chirping, and looked at the window, and I went, “That’s weird, it’s really dark still. It’s still dark.” That just went overnight. That was at 37, Ross.
Ross Greenwood: At 37? All right. I want to go to some of your accomplishments because quite clearly as this was occurring, you decided to try and make a difference for yourself but for others as well. In your case, it started out with sport, didn’t it? Because you’re a champion rower for example. Should explain some things. In your rowing, you were in the New South Wales Sports Federation Team Award for rowing, the Sir Roden Cutler Award for outstanding sporting achievement and contribution to community development. You got the Australian Centenary Medal for a range of different things. But hang on, you’ve actually represented Australia in blind cricket on the West Indies tour, the New Zealand home series, a range of things there. Other achievements, you’re the current president of the Blind Sporting Association of New South Wales and a director of the Australian Blind Cricket. You haven’t really let the grass grow under your feet, have you?
Ben Felton: No, Ross. I guess being able to help other people has made me feel good about myself and I guess I’ve learned to beat over the time and it’s always good to give back. I’ve been blessed to represent Australia in two different sports. It’s an achievement. I’m certainly very proud of them and very honored to have them. And I guess we worked in the– Helped some other younger people going through what I have. Helped them overcome their own personal barriers in life. That makes me feel good.
Ross Greenwood: All right. [chuckles] This is a bit that really gets me. You decided to become the fastest blind man in the world, is that correct?
Ben Felton: The fastest blind man in the world on a motorcycle, yes.
Ross Greenwood: On a motorcycle, all right. There are few logistical issues I wish to discuss with you about this, if that’s okay, Ben? Number one, are you completely and utterly bonkers? What were you thinking?
Ben Felton: [laughs] Funny, you say that to some people when you first tell them don’t really believe that I can ride a motorbike. They actually-
Ross Greenwood: Hang on, you were riding a motorbike when all this was diagnosed in the first place, so I know you can ride a motorbike. The problem is you can’t see where the damn thing is going.
Ben Felton: That’s just a minor problem, Ross. [laughs] I guess that’s the real challenge, isn’t it? I actually ride a motorcycle, I rode my own motorbike and I’ve got a legend of it. A guy actually who helped me out, Kevin McGee, former MotoGP rider.
Ross Greenwood: Hang on, actually that’s pretty good. You’re going at someone to help you out who is not only one of the best motorcycle riders in the world but is a MotoGP champion as well. Kevin McGee is a legend in his own, right? So, you don’t go of the bottom of the barrel to get your guide, do you?
Ben Felton: Absolutely not. No. I’ve been very fortunate and that someone like him wants to jump on board. I guess he was inspired by my story. Same old story, Ross. Makes him feel good, helping out the blind guy, trying to get achieve a miracle.
Ross Greenwood: Okay. Logistically explain how that works? You’re obviously riding the motorbike at the front, when he is supposed to be whispering over your shoulder, while you’re going at 200 Ks an hour. “Mate, go a little bit left, go a little bit right.” How does that work?
Ben Felton: [laughs] We actually have two motorbikes. I ride my own motorcycle. Kevin is on a similar bike behind me, slightly behind me and slightly to one side. And we use an analogue radio and basically he’s giving me directions. “Go, go, go. Go there.
Ross Greenwood: You’re kidding. I’ve got to tell you, I would not do that. Even if Kevin McGee were on the motorcycle beside me. Not with my eyes closed, certainly. You’ve obviously got a lot of confidence in him, he have it in you.
Ben Felton: Possibly trust.
Ross Greenwood: This would be fantastic. I know that just a little while ago you’re on the salt lakes in South Australia, you’re having a crack at the Guinness World Record. You went pretty close. Just explain how fast you went?
Ben Felton: Over the measured miles, the distance was over a mile, we did an average speed of 251.46 kilometers an hour. It’s pretty awesome.
Ross Greenwood: All right, I want people to think about this, 251 kilometers an hour on a motorcycle. That’s not bad enough. Now, close your eyes and do it. Think about that. That is exactly what’s happened there with Ben Felton. The only issue is, this bloke Billy Baxter from the UK, isn’t he? He’s the problem.
Ben Felton: Well, yes, he’s been a problem for a while.
Ross Greenwood: Yes [laughs]. Explain Billy Baxter in the UK.
Ben Felton: That’s right. Billy set a very high record, 265.33 kilometers an hour.
Ross Greenwood: You got to try and knock that off, don’t you?
Ben Felton: Absolutely. Ross, I’ve had two guys at it now and we know we can break that record. We are so close. Unofficially during practice we’ve broken it but we just haven’t been able to get everything right on the day. Billy has set a really high bar, Ross, I can tell you.
Ross Greenwood: What sort of bike you’re on?
Ben Felton: I’m now on a Yamaha R1M.
Ross Greenwood: What’s the top speed of that?
Ben Felton: Well, Kevin set a new 1,000 cc Production Class record and he did 199.115 miles per hour or 320.446 kilometers an hour. That’s out of a stock standard. Straight out of the bike shop.
Ross Greenwood: That is seriously smoking. I’ll tell you what, people can go and find out more of this guy. This is just a great story. And people should try and get behind Ben as much as they possibly can. Go to the website blindspeed.com.au. There’s an image gallery there, you can find out more about this. We’ll stick it up on to the website as well. I’ve got to tell you, this is an amazing story. But the most important part about this is in life there are no barriers and Ben Felton is living proof of that. The man who is going to be at one stage the fastest blind man in the world. Ben Felton, we appreciate your time here in the program today.
Ben Felton: Great. Thank you, Ross.