Visually impaired sprinter announced as new patron

Posted: Thursday 26 September 2019

Para-athlete Zac Shaw has pledged his support to the Macular Society as he has been announced as the organisation’s new patron.

Zac is supporting the Society to help raise awareness of macular disease - the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK and highlight the importance of funding research to find a cure.

The 24-year-old first started noticing problems with his vision at the age of nine. He was struggling to see the board at school and was no longer able to read without holding the book close to his face.

It took a series of tests and a number of visits to different specialists, but at just 13 he was told he had Stargardt disease – a rare inherited form of macular disease.

“I remember getting out of the hospital, and just bursting in to tears with my mum and it was a lot to take on at such a young age,” he said. 

“The only information I took in was, ‘You have a condition, it’s called Stargardt’s disease, there’s no cure for it and there’s no treatment’.”

After the news had sunk in Zac said he has always tried to remain positive about it – an attitude which has led to his successful athletics career.

Zac, who now sprints in the T12 disability classification, made his international debut for Great Britain in 2015 for the IPC Athletics World Championships, where he finished sixth in both the 100 metres and 200 metres.

He has since gone on to compete at multiple World, and European championships.

Talking about how his condition has affected him, he said: “I never really let it get to me, because my mum always used to say to me, ‘There’s always someone worse off than you.’

“So, although it’s hard to hear, because you feel sorry for yourself, I needed to hear it, because there is always someone worse off than you.

“I’d always go in with a mind-set that it is what it is. If I’m sad about it, it’s not actually going to change anything.”

He added: “My motivation to start running was just to make a positive out of having a disability. I wanted to be able to look at having a disability, and say, “I’m glad I have a disability, because of this.”

“And, if I didn’t have a visual impairment, I don’t think I’d be doing the sport.“

The announcement of his patronage has fallen in National Eye Health Week and Zac is keen to raise awareness of the importance of regular eye tests. He also works closely with Vision Express to promote good eye health.

He said: “I was lucky enough that I was brought up with a good mentality to go for regular eye tests, so it did help me.

“People go to the dentist every six months so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t go to an opticians.”

Zac remains hopeful that in the future there will be a cure for Stargardt disease and all other types of macular disease.

He said: “The ultimate aim has to be to stop this cruel condition. But if you can find it early, and get treatment so that person doesn’t have to go through the physical and emotional distress of having this condition that will be absolutely incredible.”

He added: “I’d like to speak on everyone’s behalf that has a visual impairment, and say a massive thank you to the Macular Society. It’s great to know there are people out there that are dedicating their time to help people like us.”

Colin Daniels, manager of the Macular Society’s working age and young people, welcomes Zac as a new patron. He said: “We’re delighted Zac has pledged his support to the Society.

“Being diagnosed with macular disease can be devastating and has a huge impact on the lives of people affected.

“Many people are left feeling isolated and that they will no longer be able to do the things they love. But we hope Zac’s positive and ambitious attitude will inspire those living with the condition and show that anything is possible.”

Colin, who was diagnosed with Stargardt as a young child, added: “While macular disease is the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK, it has very little awareness. We’re grateful to Zac for helping to raise awareness and hope it will encourage anyone who needs to to come forward and seek the support they need.”

The Macular Society has been supporting people with macular conditions for over 30 years. We offer information and support while we fund research to find a cure so that one day we can overcome macular disease.