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Marathon effort by blind teen

image-toolsVision-impaired teenager Austin O’Connor-Stubbs will swap his footy boots for runners to take part in the Melbourne Marathon festival on October 13.

Austin first noticed something was wrong with his vision in mid-2012.

“I was setting up to take a mark at footy. When the ball was four metres away from me, it suddenly disappeared. Next thing I knew, it had flown past my shoulder,” he recalls.

“We went to the optometrist and he said straight away that I had a massive blind spot – it was a huge shock.”

Further testing revealed that Austin had Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON); a rare and untreatable form of blindness that affects mostly adolescent males.

Within a matter of weeks, the sports-mad teenager had completely lost his central vision, and was legally blind.

“I still have 15% of my vision but it’s only the periphery; I can’t see anything in the centre,” he explains. “It’s super frustrating, especially losing my hand-eye coordination.”

At times, the frustration gets the better of him. “I’ve lashed out a few times. Earlier in the year, when Hawthorn lost to Geelong, I punched a hole through a wall at home. I just told Dad I was feeling a bit depressed about my eyes… luckily I got away with it!” he laughs.

Despite his vision loss, Austin is still playing football and is training for the half-marathon event at the Melbourne Marathon festival. Running unassisted, he hopes to raise much-needed funds for the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA), where he is volunteering in a research study.

“We are delighted that Austin has decided to join the CERA team for the Melbourne Marathon festival,” said Managing Director and fellow runner, Professor Jonathan Crowston.

“Donations are an essential funding source for medical research. In the case of LHON, philanthropic funding will allow us to increase our research effort in this rare but potentially blinding disease.”

CERA is one of only a few groups worldwide conducting research into LHON. “With the support of patients like Austin, we can move closer to finding a cure for this and other devastating eye diseases,” says Professor Crowston.

At only seventeen years old, Austin is amongst the youngest entrants in the half-marathon, but his parents say he has shown enormous maturity since the diagnosis.

“In some ways I’m glad it happened,” says Austin. “It’s changed my attitude a lot; I’m a lot less negative now and I try to focus on the positives in life.”

Mum Maureen O’Connor sums it up well. “He’s amazing. We’re so proud of how well he’s coped – he’s been fantastic.”

To support Austin and the CERA Melbourne Marathon team, visit Everyday Hero