Ball in Ben’s court ahead of Paralympics

Ben Rowe, a musician and aspiring Paralympian, was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at four years old. Photo: Ben Smith.
Ben Rowe, a musician and aspiring Paralympian, was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at four years old. Photo: Ben Smith.

WHEN the world’s top paralympians descend on Tokyo in 12 months, Ben Rowe is hoping to be right there with them.

Just a year out from the 2020 Paralympics, the Success resident is targeting glory on the national stage as he prepares to help Australia qualify for goalball, a team sport designed for athletes with a vision impairment.

But just making it to Tokyo would represent a watershed moment for Rowe, as he comes to grip with the loss of his sight – something he has been preparing for all his life but has hit him hard over the past couple of years.

“My sight loss has been gradual, but over the past two or three years it has been really substantial. My independence has been severely hit,” Rowe said.

At age four, he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye condition resulting in the retina eventually dying and causing a loss of vision.

Rowe never let it constrict his life; he was a keen sportsman growing up, learnt to play guitar, undertook a bachelor’s degree in counselling and scored a job in the disability field.

He currently works full-time as a Local Area Co-ordinator at disability employment provider APM – a community partner with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

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However, Rowe said the gradual loss of his vision eventually made a significant impact on his life and he was forced to adjust.

“I used to be able to cook, but those little things like knowing if it’s cooked properly is one of those difficulties you don’t think about,” he said.

“Wielding a knife is always fun; there are spillages and all the mess you can make is even worse when you can’t see.”

Fortunately, salvation arrived in February in the form of the NDIS funding, which Rowe said had been life-changing.

“It’s better for me because as a blind person, I use it when I need it. I get to choose who it is who gives me that support,” he said.

His NDIS plan means he has access to a support worker throughout the week, which helps him go to the gym to prepare for his Paralympic campaign.

The start of the plan has also reignited the musical spark within him, which at one stage was extinguished by his loss of sight.

He has released original music through Spotify under the name Benny Rowe, including an EP he recorded earlier this year, and said the return of music into his life had come at the perfect time.

“Losing my sight has been a battle and the music part is a real mental health thing,” he said.

“For me and I’m sure for other people with disabilites, you start to look ahead and say all these barriers are too hard, but this is really knocking them down and paving the way to do it.”

His next step is to return to playing live, which is something he is determined to make happen.

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