London man cycled 100 miles to honour his blind veteran father

A London man has cycled 100 miles to raise money for Blind Veterans UK, the national charity for vision-impaired ex-servicemen and women, which supported his father after he lost his sight.

Keith Balenger, 60, from North London took part in Ride London-Essex at the end of May to raise money for the military charity following the death of his father in January who had been supported since 2015 and spent the last years of his life living at the Blind Veterans UK Centre of Wellbeing on the south coast.

Alan Balenger completed his national service in the RAF in the late 1940s. After basic training, he became a radar defence operator. 

He lost his sight later in life due to macular degeneration. Keith said:

“Neither me nor my father realised how much we were affected by his sight loss for some time but he was definitely depressed. With the support of Blind Veterans UK, Dad managed to stay in his home for a few years and he was supported in finding equipment and services that were available to him.

“He took part in activity weeks with Blind Veterans UK such as painting and cooking, and enjoyed a guided history talk and dinner and dance functions. With their support, I saw him come out of his shell again and he was confident to go out alone.

“Later in his life, when he moved into the charity’s centre, the staff were fantastic with him; his mental wellbeing greatly improved. When the end was near, and my father entered palliative care, the staff were brilliant and looked after both me and my father.

“It was a no-brainer for me to take part in a sporting event to raise money for Blind Veterans UK as I wanted to do something to give back and my father was a very keen sportsman.”

Keith successfully completed the course, which starts in London and makes its way through the Essex countryside before finishing back in the capital city on Tower Bridge, in five and a half hours.

He said:

“The ride went well, the weather was kind and I made brisk progress. The last few miles Dad was in the forefront of my thoughts, it was emotional but spurred me on remembering his grit and determination.

“My father was a sports fan all his life and he encouraged me to take part in many sports as a youth. Dad won many competitions in football, rugby, cricket, and boxing and later in life when mobility became an issue, he took up bowls and again won a number of national competitions. When he lost his sight he then bowled for Enfield Blind Bowlers.

“I was emotional when I crossed the finish line but also elated. Blind Veterans UK did so much for my father and my family, that I had a great sense of achievement to be able to give back.”

Keith took up both cycling and pilates to help with his recovery following a back injury, both of these have now become hobbies and passions. He said:

“I ride both mountain bikes and road bikes, the latter as part of an unofficial cycling club/social group. With this group we have completed a number of rides to raise money for our chosen charities and I’ve cycled Ride London twice before.

“In June 2021 I was taking part in the Suffolk 100 and was involved in a crash and broke three vertebrae. Once again, I used pilates and cycling as part of my recovery to regain my strength and flexibility. I returned to Suffolk the following June and completed the Suffolk 100. Cycling has been incredibly important to me both for fitness and my mental well-being.”

Keith has already raised over £750 for Blind Veterans UK. If you would like to help him further boost his fundraising, please visit his JustGiving page.

If you would like to take on a cycling challenge for Blind Veterans UK, please visit our website to find out more about the London to Brighton Cycle.

Blind Veterans UK supports thousands of blind veterans across the country but knows there are many thousands more who still need its support to rebuild their lives after sight loss.   

If you, or someone you know, served in the Armed Forces, including National Service, and are now struggling with sight loss, then please get in touch. Call 0800 389 7979 or visit blindveterans.org.uk/gethelp.