A formidably fit army chef, Steven lost his sight during brain surgery in 2009. But this hasn’t stopped him from running marathons.
In 2003, Steven Waterston suffered a brain haemorrhage and was diagnosed with a large scale arterio venous malformation (AVM) which was potentially fatal and deemed inoperable due to its size and location deep within his brain.
“I’ve run all my life,” he says. “My inner runner has always been present. I ran quite well for the army doing cross country and other sports such as squash and football. I found that I preferred endurance-based exercise (the longer the better). In my own time I used to do three/five-mile runs and I was always among the fittest guys in any regiment. I worked tirelessly to break the [fat, lazy] stereotype that was often attributed to army chefs.
“I started doing the longer distances after I had my first haemorrhage, coincidentally on the day of the inaugural Edinburgh Marathon in 2003. It was also my seventh wedding anniversary and my wife’s birthday. Prior to that, the marathon hadn’t really been on my radar but I decided to make the 2004 Edinburgh Marathon my main goal.
A few months after my first experience of brain surgery and rehab, I had got up to about 20 miles and I completed the second Edinburgh Marathon in 3:50.02. That was the beginning of my distance running.”
Frustratingly, at peak physical fitness in 2006, Steven was admitted to hospital with a suspected stroke – scans and additional tests diagnosed a severe bout of viral meningitis. Steven had also been plagued by an ankle injury sustained from an army training accident in 1992, and in 2007 he underwent a third attempt to reconstruct his ankle.
Sadly, five days after completing another Edinburgh Marathon (on crutches), Steven was rushed to hospital and diagnosed with a large and extended blood clot in his leg. But this did not deter him, and in 2008 he completed his first double marathon: London and Edinburgh marathons in 3:37 and 3:34, respectively.
Later that year, Steven had a second stroke and in early 2009 he underwent three major surgeries totalling over 37 hours. “It was an enormous undertaking,” he says.
“The surgeon was required to work deep within my brain to complete the successful removal of the AVM. They had already discussed with my wife and I that the radiation treatment used to shrink the AVM and the ensuing resection would cause substantial sight loss (and hair loss), but given the alternatives, it seemed like a ‘no-brainer’ (excuse the pun).”
Steven was left with a major loss of function: partially paralysed and with his left visual field completely gone. “My brain is now slower at processing images,” he says.
“Sometimes I don’t see something at all, or if I do see it, it doesn’t register because my brain isn’t proficient enough to receive the neural impulses required to generate the picture.”
Incredibly, Steven completed the 2009 Loch Ness Marathon just three and a half months after his discharge from hospital.
In early 2010 he was admitted to the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre (Headley Court) for further rehabilitation, which saw him undertaking a 15,000ft tandem freefall and two marathons, before eventually being medically discharged in 2011.
This was a significant year for Steven as he joined Edinburgh AC and was invited to Belfast to be assessed by IPC Athletics classifiers before jetting off to Kenya with the army’s Battle Back Team to complete a high altitude marathon in Kenya (with a guide runner).
Steven’s classification was T38 (Cerebral Palsy athlete) due to his lack of muscle control and balance. Although he can no longer ride a bicycle or drive a car, Steven is proud that “running is one of the few things that I can do reasonably and successfully on my own.
You can do it anywhere any time, with or without a group. Many of my runs are done early or very late. I still have some problems bumping into things and the occasional fall but these are generally overridden by my love of running and fortunately there are few, if any witnesses, I think.
“During races I am marked up as visually impaired and I take my stick with me so I can run trouble-free. I always start at the front of an event because otherwise there’s so much traffic for me to get through – which is difficult due to the constant changes with people all around me.
I rely on the goodwill and patience of my fellow runners to make the necessary allowances along the way, which generally allows me to manage quite well.
“I’ve completed many marathons including international races in Kenya, Germany and France. I’ve run all of the Edinburgh marathons with the exception of the first one and the 2009 as I’d just been discharged from hospital.”
In 2015, Steven ran the London and Edinburgh Marathons, the Scottish Half Marathon in East Lothian and the Jedburgh Half Marathon in the beautiful Scottish borders.
“Running is such an enjoyable experience. For me, it just feels like the right thing to do, ” he says.