October 28, 2005.
Belfast Telegraph, Northern Ireland.
Mark Pollock (29) from Holywood thought his life was over when he lost his sight seven years ago, but since then he has travelled the world, set up his own business, rowed for his country in the Commonwealth Games... and written his first book. He tells Karen Ireland how blindness has helped him gain real insight into the important things in life
When I lost my sight I thought my world had come to an end. I was naive and ignorant and thought blind people just sit at home and do nothing. Within a few weeks my whole world had come crashing down around me and I saw no way out.
I was in my final year at Trinity College in Dublin, about to sit my final exams and I had my whole life all nicely mapped out. I was planning on moving to London to become an investment banker and with that would come all the trimmings of a nice life.
I would have the flash car, nice home, fancy suits and a wonderful lifestyle.
All that changed on April 10, 1998, when I went completely blind.
As a child I had suffered from problems with my eyesight. I had a detached retina and, despite operations, it couldn't be fixed.
I had already lost the sight in my other eye when I was 11 and now I was completely blind. And initially I just gave up.
I moved home to Banbridge to live with my mum, Barbara, and basically wallowed and felt sorry for myself.
Two things changed this and my life - forever. My mum was determined that I would move on, so she started finding out about support and encouraging me not to give up and my dad, John, found out about a special computer course which I could take.
With their help, persuasion and a lot of love and support from my friends and other family members, I finally started to accept things.
I realised that I did still have a choice. I could sit at home and wallow or I could get out there and find out what I could still do. I was fighting against becoming a blind person.
Meanwhile, thankfully, my mum was being more optimistic and was busy doing practical things like finding out about white sticks and guide dogs.
I didn't want to accept either of these because of what they represented and because then to the outside world I really would be a blind person.
Eventually, I decided to give them a go and to be honest a whole new world opened up before me. These are the tools which give you back your life and your independence.
I realised life wasn't over. This was just the beginning of a new and very exciting chapter in my life.
I did the computer course, which really was my access back into the real world. Initially, I had no idea what to do with the rest of my life. I couldn't go into banking and I found lots of employment doors were being closed but only because companies didn't know what I could offer them and I didn't know either.
Finally, I decided that I needed to take a leap of faith and move away from the comfort of home. I had too many people to do too many things for me and I needed to stand on my own two feet.
I moved back to Dublin, a city I knew really well and had loved as a student. I got a job working for IAWS, which is part of the food and agri industry.
Then I did something I thought would never be possible again: I started rowing. And with the help of a good friend, I built up my training and was able to represent Northern Ireland at the 2002 Commonwealth Games. I've also taken part in races in the Gobi Desert and been to the North Pole.
Since '98 there have been many new milestones and achievements but the most vital thing has been feeling normal again and learning how to lead a normal life.
And I really wanted to convey that message to others.
Over time I got the opportunity as I was asked to talk about my experiences and from that I have developed a business and I now travel all over the world and give motivational speeches to companies and organisations.
I use my experiences to help people in all aspects of their lives and businesses make wise and informed choices.
I've also just written a book called: Making it Happen. This also looks at how people end up at certain junctions and in certain places in their lives and about how to get the best out of every aspect of your life whatever your circumstances.
Yes, being an investment banker in London might have given me a wonderful life - but I don't think it would have given me all the opportunities that I've had in the last few years.
I am excited by challenges and feel there's always something new to learn and to do. One of my latest challenges brought an unexpected bonus and extra blessing.
I had been at a conference in Miami and on a night out we all ended up in a nightclub. I was frustrated as I wasn't able to dance and had always hated dancing anyway.
Now I was in a situation where I couldn't even go up to someone and ask them to dance. I vowed that when I got back home I would learn to salsa.
As I couldn't go out and follow classes, I decided I would get an instructor to come and teach me in my kitchen. And she did and guess what? I fell in love with my instructor, Simone.
She accepts me for who and what I am and she has never known me anything different. And while I haven't seen her, I know she is beautiful and all reports are pretty impressive.
So, for me, life has been about what I have made it. I am so grateful to my mum and dad for giving me that encouragement and for forcing me to get out there and get a life.
"Making it Happen" by Mark Pollock is published by Mercier Press at £10.99
For further information about Mark's motivational speaking, his book and his CD programmes contact:
Source URL: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/features/story.jsp?story=666923.
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