This blind man will teach you what vision means
Hein Wagner is living proof that we set our own limits. Born blind, Wagner has sought to discover the world through his singular perspective. He was the first blind person to participate in the infamously arduous 100-man Antarctica Marathon. He has broken the World Blind Land Speed Record – twice. Climbed the 10 highest mountains in the Western Cape. Completed the gruelling Absa Cape Epic. But these triumphs pale in comparison to what he considers his greatest accomplishment.
“I think my personal biggest achievement to date is accepting my blindness unconditionally,” Wagner says. He was born with Leber’s congenital amaurosis, a rare degenerative disease that causes a severe loss of vision that is evident in infancy. When Wagner was five years old, his parents sent him to boarding school at the Worcester Institute for the Blind, a traumatising experience for the child, who frequently got lost. However, it prepared him for life, and instilled within him the resilience that has carried him through some of his most treacherous journeys. He began pursuing extreme sports after completing the Cape to Rio Yacht Race at the age of 21, while he was still working in the IT industry. The 14-day sailing expedition ignited in Wagner a desire to put his capabilities to the test. After receiving numerous requests by others to share his story, Wagner became a full-time motivational speaker in 2004.
He has continued ever since, using his signature humorous touch to inspire and encourage others to change their own mindsets. As a brand ambassador for Kaleidoscope, Wagner raises funds through his adventures for the NPO, which seeks to empower people who are visually impaired. In 2014 he received a Golden Key honorary award from the University of Stellenbosch for his continued efforts in driving social change. “I want to normalise the differently-abled,” he says, “and make the world a more accessible place for all.” If anything, Wagner has shown the possibilities life presents if one is simply willing to change perception.