For nearly a decade, Nick Gleeson and Unity have been a constant pair.
Nick and Unity, from Vision Australia Seeing Eye Dogs, were paired around eight-and-a-half years ago and in that time there’s been little time apart for the two.
That’s about to change however, as Nick prepares for a gruelling solo trek through the South Australian outback that will require him to leave his trusted companion behind.
Completely blind since the age of seven, Nick is set to take on a three-day trek across Island Lagoon, a remote salt flat around 430 kilometres north of Adelaide.
The trek itself is challenge enough, however adjusting to life without Unity, albeit briefly, is something Nick has been forced to come to terms with.
“The idea of not having him with me is something that has really taken a bit of adjusting to. When you’ve got a Seeing Eye Dog, you’re pretty much together 24/7 and it’s going to be tough to leave Unity behind,” Nick says.
“Not long after we were matched, I climbed to Everest Base Camp and Unity didn’t come with me then. Since then this will be the longest we’ve been apart and because we’ve been together for so long it’s definitely going to be a lot harder this time,” he says.
Nick has taken Unity on expeditions before, including an extended hike through New Zealand, however this trip presented too many challenges to Unity’s involvement.
“After New Zealand I realised he’s probably getting too old for anything like that again, plus there’s going to be extreme heat and extreme cold on this trip and it wouldn’t be fair to put him through that.”
While leaving Unity behind is going to be tough, the challenge Nick is taking on will hopefully benefit others from the blind and low vision community as he aims to raise funds to help people in rural NSW access Vision Australia services.
“I’ve been a Vision Australia client for a quite a while and along with Unity they’ve supported me a number of ways. The services they offer really do make an amazing difference in the lives of people who are blind or have low vision and hopefully I can help others to make use of them.”
Recently, Nick has been supported by Carolina, a Vision Australia Orientation & Mobility Specialist who has been responsible for training Nick in the techniques that will guide him from start to finish on the trek.
Nick has been working closely with Carolina so he will have the necessary skills to make it safely around across Island Lagoon, which has included having to get his head around concepts he may never have considered otherwise.
“Worrying about directions like north, south, east and west is something that I’ve never thought about before. Now I’m learning how to use compasses to make sure that I’ll be going in the right direction when I’m out there.
“Before this I had no idea about what a compass looked like or how I’d use one. The first couple of times it was all new to me, but after about the third training session with Carolina I started to get the hang of it.”
Nick is using two compasses, one that features braille and another that has audio features. While coming to terms with those devices has been a learning curve, Nick said he’s also had to learn some other skills given he won’t have Unity there to keep him on the right track.
“I’m learning a lot of little things as well, like listening more to what’s happening around me or taking notice of what’s under my feet. The other big thing has been making sure my feet and body are pointed in the right direction.
“Usually I’d have Unity there to help guide me the right way, but this time it’s going to be up to me. It’s going to be a bit of a challenge, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Support Nick’s efforts to help others with blindness or low vision to access vital support services by donating today.
All money raised will help fund outreach visits by Vision Australia staff to the New England region of NSW to provide specialist support services to help people with vision loss live safe, active and independent lives.
Donations can be made online at https://nicksislandlagoonexpedition.gofundraise.com.au/ or via phone on 1800 422 077.