A woman is on a mission to check off all the items on her “visual memory list” before she goes completely blind.
Tiggi Trethowan wants to pack as much as possible, including visiting a remote Australian island of nine and exploring Antarctica.
The 65-year-old lost her sight in her right eye about 15 years ago and has only 6% vision in her left eye. As Tiggi puts it, “My eyesight is hanging on the edge of a cliff.”
The diagnosis means she will eventually lose her sight completely, and Tiggi says it’s important for her to create a “visual memory list” of places she particularly loves or still wants to travel to.
A sighted guide is always present on the trips, just like her black labrador Jackie, who was adopted by guide dogs about five years ago.
“Actually, when I see something I want to put into my visual memory, I physically stop and click my eyes almost like a camera and consciously store it as a mental image,” she said.
“Even before I found out I have 6% of my sight in my left eye, I realized that the opportunities others have, looking at a beautiful painting or looking at pictures in a photo album, wouldn’t be an option if only I could see can go.
“My choice was to go to bed, put the covers over me and never get up again, or get up and revisit the places I loved and people I loved.”
So far she has been to new places including Patagonia, Chile and Argentina, the most “dramatic” being Antarctica, which she traveled through on a fishing boat with her guide.
The “highlight” of the visual list was a trip to Wales to see humpback whales.
“We went to a small science station on an island where scientists are working with humpback whales in the area,” she said.
“We slept in these pods on the beach and one day we went to a field where there were over 30 humpback whales.
“It was like a springboard – we were in the thick of it. It was so magical.”
Last month, Guide Dogs surprised Tiggi by organizing her to take on the Go Ape Bracknell’s Treetop Challenge, including tree-to-tree traverses and ziplines, with help from Mark ‘Billy’ Billingham, 57, from Channel 4’s SAS: Who Dares Wins .
“There were so many ropes and straps, so for someone with 6% vision, it was challenging,” Tiggi said.
“But I literally threw myself in and the great thing about being blind is I can’t see where the ground is, so it didn’t really matter.
“I can’t tell you how nice Billy was. He never pushed me, but was always there to support me.”
Tiggi has advised people who fear going blind to “never give up, never give in”.
“It’s a diagnosis. Yes, it could potentially be life-threatening, but it’s not life-threatening.
“It’s just a form of renavigation.”
It took some soul searching to get to this point though, as Tiggi lost her home, couldn’t drive and was struggling financially after her diagnosis.
“But after coming to terms with it, I realized that losing my eyesight was giving me more than I needed to.
“And guide dogs have always been there for me and they evaluate me and Jackie regularly.”
Remaining items on the list include trips to Costa Rica to visit the Fortuna Sloth Sanctuary, a trip to Kenya, a country she previously visited while working on a documentary with Amref Flying Doctors, and a revisit to Dirk Hartog Island, Australia, which has a population of nine.
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