Inspirational local aiming for gold

Cambridge businesses are rallying behind an inspirational local, Mitch Wilson, as he aims for the podium, overcoming his own setbacks in the process. Pictured here with his dog Blaze.

Para-cyclist Mitch Wilson has Olympic gold firmly on his radar, and he’s not letting the loss of his eyesight stop him. The 25-year-old became legally blind in his late teens due to a misdiagnosed brain tumour, but plans to reach the Olympics nonetheless.

It all started in late 2010, when the then-17-year old was feeling run down, feeling sick in the mornings and suffering from migraines. “Within two weeks I was like, I’ve got a brain tumour, I just reckoned I did,” Mitch said, recalling the journey that led to having less than 5 per cent of eyesight remaining.

After speaking with his GP, he went to a neurologist. “I told him in plain words, I have a brain tumour, I want a scan, I will pay for it,” he said, explaining that the doctor then refused the scan, telling Mitch he was fine after learning that his family had a history of Huntington’s disease.

“Because I’d been cleared, it was essentially like, well, I’ve just got to live with it.”

After treatment in hospital Mitch continued to lose his eyesight.

The pressure in his head worsened for well over a year, meanwhile Mitch visited a number of specialists, a gastrologist, chiropractor, trying to determine the cause of his sickness. It was, in fact, a brain tumour lodged near the back of his head above his neck, where fluid would build up as he slept, causing sickness in the morning when he got up.

“I was constantly waking up with massive migraines, waking up in tears,” Mitch said. “And with the pressure in my head over that whole time, that’s why my eyesight is damaged.”

When he began to see a pinhole in his vision, Mitch was advised by his doctor to return if it changed. It got bigger, he returned, and eventually he was finally given the CT scan he’d requested over a year earlier.

“By that stage the damage had already been done,” said Mitch, who for the next year wouldn’t even be sure whether he would survive. He underwent emergency surgery in April 2012, followed by radiation treatment, and continued to slowly lose his eyesight.

“That was the hardest part, it was almost like the tumour was irrelevant, it was like, save my eyesight… I was at the stage where I was looking at all the family photos and stuff before going to bed, like I’m not going to see it again… it was pretty hard, and the doctors couldn’t do anything about it.”

The tumour did return in 2013 and was finally nipped in the bud with stereotactic radiation treatment in Dunedin. Luckily Mitch still has partial sight in his left eye, as well as the unwavering support of his dog Blaze.

“I started thinking, I need to do something, I’m not going to die, I’m still alive, so I thought back to being a kid again – sports, I’m going to learn a sport,” said Mitch, who had been “very sporty” during primary school. He eventually set his focus on paracycling, and in early 2015 completed a talent ID camp, becoming a part of the two-year Pathway to Podium programme.

Mitch (right) made it onto the Avantidrome track after enrolling in the Pathway to Podium programme.

He teamed up with a new tandem partner in 2017, elite cyclist Cam Kowalski, and after just six weeks they set a new record at the 2017 National Track Cycling Championships. Cam had to later leave the winning partnership, and Mitch is now scouting a new tandem partner in his pursuit for the podium, which will start with competing at the World Championships in March next year.

“You can’t help everyone, but it shouldn’t stop you helping someone,” said Kerry Saberton, director of Jigsaw Professional Development, who first heard Mitch speak at a High-Performance Chamber event a couple of months ago. “He told his story, and I thought, I can’t leave this, I’ve got to get behind this young man.”

Since then Kerry has been drumming up support for Mitch on the streets of Cambridge, already getting a number of businesses behind him. “This community has been amazing, everybody that I have asked for some support has come to the table with something,” said Kerry, who is also supporting Mitch in his aim of becoming a speaker. He’s already started introductory courses at university too and will eventually study political science.

“This is a man who has got off his own backside and said okay, I’m going to go and do something with what I’ve got, and I just thought that’s incredible,” said Kerry.

Several businesses have shown their support already, including Loulous and Onyx, Gerda Elliott from LJ Hooker has even sponsored a brand-new training bike, and Webb & Wood accountants have set up an official business for Mitch free of charge, dubbed Blind Ambition, for event speaking.

“I’m just blown away,” Mitch said of the support. Struggling to find the right words, Mitch said his main drive is, “Don’t bitch and moan about stuff, just do it.”

Those interested in sponsoring or donating can contact Kerry via email: kerry@jpd.co.nz.

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