Image of Sarah and her dog, Eva.

Sarah Canning, head of optometry at Moorfields Eye Hospital, is taking on a year of competitive challenges to give back to Moorfields Eye Charity, and Heart Research UK.

Sarah Canning is the head of optometry at Moorfields Eye Hospital. Motivated by her parents, she has pursued a career in optometry and has now been working in NHS hospital optometry for over 35 years.

My parents were my motivation in following a career in optometry, and dad, an optometrist, was also a keen cyclist and swimmer. I think it’s fair to say I have been quite influenced by his life journey.

Being the head of optometry at an established institution such as Moorfields means that Sarah’s life is fairly hectic, however, setting this goal is the first step towards realising one of her aspirations: becoming more active as she approaches her 60th birthday and motivating others to do the same.

Sarah is completing this year of challenges along with her optometry colleague, Basia Newson-Smith, who is fundraising for Mungo King of Hearts.


Sarah was prompted last summer during the Bristol Triathlon, in which her son participated.

She was captivated by the achievement of two sight impaired and blind competitors who completed the Bristol Triathlon course accompanied by their sighted guides.

…I never fail to be amazed by the determination of so many of my patients who overcome their sight loss and get on with their lives so positively, but access to activities and adventures can be difficult for some.

Following her year of challenges, Sarah hopes to pursue her goal of becoming a sighted guide.

This is a way to support people with sight loss to participate in sport activity competitions, such as swimming, cycling & hiking adventures.

The challenges

The year of challenges kicked off on 5 March 2023 with our annual fundraising walk, Eye to Eye.

Roz, Basia, Sarah, Eva & Rich at Eye to Eye 2023 finish line

Sarah Canning and Basia Newson-Smith at Eye to Eye 2023

Since then, Sarah and Basia have completed the Easter Ultra Challenge in April and Beast to the East in May.

Basia and Sarah at Beast to the East

Snowdown night challenge group climb

Their most recent accomplishments also include:

  • Snowdown night challenge in May: Sarah and the group started the climb at 10 pm, reached the summit at 1.30 am, and returned to the base by 4.45 am.
  • 20-20 cycling/​walking challenge on the South downs in July
  • Cutty sark rig climb in August: Basia and Sarah climbed the rigging and walked the yard arm of the cutty sark ship
  • 1.4 mile Bournemouth Pier to Pier swim - an extra event in preparation for the big Scilly Isles swim in September
  • November: 25km along the Welsh coast and 25km walk in Birmingham.
  • December: A 10km hike through Friston Forest and over the South Downs across the Seven Sisters to the point where the River Adur reaches the sea at Cuckmere Haven.
  • January: A 25-mile Dawn to Dusk Wye River paddle

Sarah and Basia at 20-20 cycling/​walking challenge on the South Downs

Sarah at 1.4 mile Bournemouth Pier to Pier swim finish line

Sarah on the Wye River for the 25-mile paddle

I currently work at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London and have been fortunate to witness remarkable advances in eye treatments realised through ground-breaking research, which can prevent sight loss or restore sight with life changing impacts for individuals and families.

Sarah on the rigging of the Cutty Sark ship

The plan is for Sarah and Basia to participate in monthly events from now until March 2024 to fundraise for Moorfields Eye Charity, Heart Research UK and Mungo King of Hearts.

The reason I want to fundraise for my 2 chosen charities is to support both charities’ quests to reduce the number of lives cut short by heart disease and the number of people whose lives are impacted by irreversible sight loss.

Sarah and friends on a 10km hike in East Sussex

Sarah and friends take a dip in the sea at Cuckmere Haven

Coming up next:

  • 4th May 2024 – Night Climb of Snowdon 
  • 6th-8th June 2024 - Lake District challenge (including wild swimming in Coniston water, canoeing to Wild Cat Island and climbing Old Man of Coniston)
  • 23rd June 2024 – Eye to Eye