Ben Pettingill sees life in a different way to most. At age 16, Ben lost 98% of his eyesight overnight to a rare genetic syndrome, Lebers Hereditary Optic Neuropathy. Ben shared his story with Focus …
Hi Ben. Tell us a bit about yourself; where did you grow up and attend school?
I grew up in the north-eastern outskirts of Melbourne and was your typical boy, attending Plenty Valley Christian College. I loved nothing more than playing sport and being outdoors. I enjoyed school, but longed for the bell to go at the end of the day or the weekend to arrive so I could either be playing basketball, cricket or football. Alternatively, the weekend would usually mean going away camping, fishing or waterskiing, all of which I loved doing. I am pretty down to earth, love to have fun and now live with my partner, Amy, and dog, Aussie, close to where I grew up.
At the age of 16, you had a life changing medical diagnosis. Tell us about that …
At age 16 I lost 98% of my eyesight overnight to a rare genetic syndrome, Lebers Hereditary Optic Neuropathy. This sudden and traumatic event turned my world upside down and crushed all my childhood dreams in an instant. Without warning, I now had limits placed on my life by my new situation.
What are some of the challenges you face on a daily basis due to this?
The biggest challenge that I face daily is not being able to drive. This is a very frustrating one, because I am a such an independent person and not being able to drive means to get anywhere at all I either have to rely on someone else to be free to take me and pick me up, or alternatively catch a taxi or take public transport. Another is not being able to read. Even though I have technology that reads out what is on my phone and my computer, we all know that technology fails quite regularly, and when this happens it is very frustrating. I could go through so many more little day to day things that people may see as challenges, but now I just see that I have to do these things differently to a sighted person. To me it is not harder, just different.
Now with the coin flipped, living your life to the fullest, what are some amazing experiences you’ve endured?
I may have lost my vision overnight at 16, and although I didn’t realise it straight away, I was now seeing the world with two new types of vision; “True Vision” and “Limitless Vision”. True Vision is a transformed perception, and I discovered this when time and time again friends of mine were approaching me and asking me, “Why are you friends with people that look like that? They don’t look like your type of friends”. No longer could I have pre-conceived ideas or make judgements about myself, the people around me and situations I was faced with by what I saw. I actually had to get to know them from the inside out first, rather than the outside in.
Limitless Vision took me longer to discover, as I had accepted that my situation was going to limit my life. Soon enough though, my confidence that I had lost started to re-appear. Not only could I not see physical limits, I started to believe that I should stop seeing the mental and emotional limits too. I believe that, despite anyone’s situation or circumstances, the possibilities are limitless with the right tools and attitude. Living life with Limitless Vision has empowered me to become the first legally blind person in the world to compete in an obstacle course race un-tethered and, in February this year, become the first blind person to compete in the Southern 80, the fastest water skiing race in the world. All of these experiences may have never happened if I hadn’t have lost my eyesight. If I had the opportunity to go back now and change what happened to me, I wouldn’t.
What would you like to say to other young people who are living with blindness or another medical condition they feel is holding them back in life?
No matter what condition you live with, circumstance you face or situation you feel may be limiting your life, you still need to dream and have goals. If you flip your way of thinking and look past your condition, circumstance or situation, anything is possible; you may just have to do things differently and see with vision that doesn’t rely on your eyesight.
You’re coming to Port Macquarie for the Luminosity Youth Summit to speak to a theatre full of 15 – 25 year olds. What’s your presentation going to be based on?
I won’t give too much away, so I keep a couple of surprises in store; however, I will say that my presentation will be based on breaking through the barriers and obstacles that come up in life and how seeing with Limitless Vision can mean that anything is possible.
What parting words would you like to share with our readers?
Everyone has their set of circumstances and situations that will throw challenges their way. Mine is that I can’t see; however, that doesn’t mean I am any worse or better off than anyone else. Every situation is unique and at the end of the day, you are the only person in control of whether you will let it limit you, or whether you will choose to live limitlessly.
Get inspired by Ben at Luminosity Youth Summit
19 – 21 JULY 2017.