Ultra-marathon runner and tech pioneer, Simon Wheatcroft, refuses to let blindness hold him back. Whether he is competing in ultra-marathons, climbing mountains or going about his day to day life, he combines the use of technology and his fundamental belief and trust in his own abilities and body to overcome what many would consider insurmountable barriers and achieve his goals. Simon’s unique blend of ferocious drive, along with his background in technology and psychology, enables him to push the boundaries of possibility and challenge the audience to explore what they can achieve.
Born with a genetic eye disorder (Retinitis Pigmentosa) resulted in Simon becoming blind at 17. After a number of difficult years of adaptation, he headed to California with the intention of climbing a mountain and proposing to his girlfriend. Having never climbed or hiked up a mountain before, Simon’s view was how hard can it be?
While he managed to propose to his girlfriend (halfway up the mountain) the summit remained elusive as it was too dangerous for him to continue to the top. For the first time in his life Simon quit because he couldn’t see. It wasn’t the difficulty of the mountain, it was his lack of vision that defeated him on the day. Returning to the UK he vowed never to quit again because he was unable to see. Now all he needed was a new challenge. Making use of technology, he began a remarkable journey of learning to run outdoors totally unaided aside from the Smartphone app RunKeeper and his remaining senses as a guide.
Over a period of seven months, he went from running between the goalposts on a football field to his first race of over 100 miles. Partnering with leading technology firms and using social media to find running partners Simon has gone on to run marathons and ultramarathons. In 2014, he decided that the 26.2 mile New York City marathon wasn’t enough, so he decided to start in Boston over 250 miles away!
Leveraging his experience of working with leading technology firms (IBM, MIT and Google), Simon is creating the next generation of technology that will continue to enable himself and others to achieve what many bystanders would consider unattainable. Much of this technology was put to the test as he sought to test the boundaries of what is humanly possible as the first ever blind person to run solo the 4 Deserts Marathon in Namibia in May 2016.
Simon’s keynote titles include, but are not limited to:
Running the line: understand how technology can be used and adapted to expand the realm of possibility for all and how the obstacles affecting a visually impaired person can be used to create a product to benefit the general public.
Diversity in technology: understand how developing and adapting technology can break down barriers, increase diversity and create better solutions within a problem solving community.
Quitting and Failure: learn how to identify the delicate balance between what truly defines quitting vs failure and what can be learnt from adversity and failure and how it can result in a positive conclusion.
Understanding the end goal: how working backwards allows you assess potential risks and then strip down and simplify life into achievable tasks and ambitions.
Teamwork, leadership and motivation: how to put together the best team for the job and use your vision to inspire them to achieve things they never thought possible.
Diversity and technology: understand how embracing, developing and adapting technology can break down barriers, increase diversity and create better solutions.