Keith and his guide runner, Jim, along the running tracks.

Keith Turner and Jim Roberts ran the Great North Run in an attempt to set a new record for a blind runner completing a half marathon completely untethered, and to raise money for our cause.

As a child, Keith Turner was diagnosed with childhood glaucoma caused by a rare genetic condition, Axenfeld Rieger. 

This condition led Keith to lose sight gradually, and by the age of 19, he had entirely lost his sight in both eyes.

Pursuing your passion

Keith has been passionate about running since school and has been running for over two decades.

The reason why I run is because, to me, it’s a form of freedom. It’s all about you, yourself, and the energy you have inside you. Feeling free…

Keith Turner

After losing his sight, Keith didn’t think he could run again. However, a friend asked him if he wanted to run the London Marathon together, and this was the beginning of Keith’s life of running as a blind person. 

One of the challenges he faced was realising there were few guide runners in his local area. But Keith didn’t let that stop him. He joined a local running club, Club Arena 80AC, where he met other runners with whom he developed friendships and who guided him on the track at running events.

Whatever you like to do in life try doing it. Find people that will do it with you, like I found Jim and all my guide runners. They allow me to run and experience what I really love, which is that freedom of running. So just try and find that thing in life that you really love and don’t let anybody stop you doing it.

Keith Turner for BBC Sport at the Great North Run 2023.

Recently, Keith and his friends set up a WhatsApp group to spread the word to encourage and provide other runners the opportunity to train and become guide runners. The goal is to support runners living with sight loss, including Keith.

Keith’s love for running motivated him to get involved in other sports, too, such as Triathlon and Sound tennis.

Great North Run

As a fitness enthusiast, Keith started to attend park runs. He soon realised that it was not only the physical benefits he craved but also the joy of being with his friends in the community and experiencing the outside world’s beauty.

He wanted to immerse himself in this activity more often, so he joined his friends for a run whenever he felt like doing so, joining a few running park clubs in his local area. 

Keith and his friend and guide runner, Jim

As a challenge to himself, Keith set a goal to run the Great North Run with his friend and guide, Jim, completely untethered, relying only on his sense of hearing, trust, strength and perseverance.

On 10 September 2023, Keith and Jim, succeeded in running the Great North Run half marathon completely untethered. Jim guided Keith along the course by ringing bells ahead of him to direct him.

Support from Moorfields

Moorfields has looked after Keith’s son from when he was only four weeks old.

Despite a family history of a genetic eye condition that led Keith and his youngest sister to lose their sight and Keith’s older brother to have extremely limited vision, Keith’s son has maintained good eyesight well into adulthood. 

John Caine (Great North Run founder), Keith Turner and Jim Roberts

The team of dedicated professionals at Moorfields, including consultants, nurses, anaesthetists, theatre staff, and researchers, played a crucial role in preserving his vision.

Now, Keith’s granddaughters are receiving the same level of exceptional care from Professor Sir Peng Khaw and his team at Moorfields. 

Disability and challenges

Having lost his sight and lived with sight loss for many years, Keith is aware of how often people with disabilities were subjected to the decisions made by others (mainly non-disabled people) regarding their lives.

Nowadays, however, Keith observes that non-disabled people are more likely to ask disabled individuals about their aspirations and make necessary adjustments, which fosters a more inclusive and welcoming environment so that disabled individuals may reach their full potential.

When you have a disability there are things that are much more difficult to do. I can’t just go out and run on my own. But when I have a guide runner, if the tether is very light I can just feel like I’m running free of everything… I love to be able to push myself to the very limit.

This gradual shift in attitude is essential because it provides more opportunities for disabled individuals to feel not only valued but also comfortable and confident enough in themselves to push their limits.

For runners dealing with sight loss, and in Keith’s case, running alongside sighted people can pose many challenges. 

Keith and Jim at Great North Run

Richard Whitehead, Keith Turner and Jim Roberts

Keith believes it is crucial to raise awareness about the needs of disabled runners, including those with sight loss, so that they can enjoy running alongside other runners in a safe and inclusive environment. 

This can be done by encouraging non-disabled runners to be more aware of their surroundings and other runners and by providing support and resources to disabled runners to help them participate in activities like running with greater ease and confidence.