29 Nov 2018

UK’s #1 visually-impaired sprinter tells of his medal hopes for Tokyo 2020 after battling disease that has stolen 90% of sight

UK’s #1 visually-impaired sprinter tells of his medal hopes for Tokyo 2020 after battling disease that has stolen 90% of sight: Zac Shaw having his eyes tested at the Vision Express Loughborough store.

23-year-old Zac Shaw backs charity campaign, after Vision Express eye test aged nine led to shock Stargardt diagnosis

As an outgoing nine-year-old with a love of computer games and reading, Zac Shaw couldn’t understand why he was slowly edging closer to the screen and pages – until, after four years of tests and hospital trips, he was diagnosed with an uncurable sightstealing condition called Stargardt disease.

Now 23, Zac has been robbed of 90 per cent of his vision, but that hasn’t stopped him in his tracks. He is a gold medal-winning Para-athlete, with hopes of a position in the GB team heading to Tokyo 2020.

Zac’s condition was first suspected after his mum, Evette, booked him in for an eye test at the Vision Express Grimsby store near their home. The team initially prescribed glasses to the youngster, but when they monitored his sight and found it had not improved, the optometrist made a referral to Sheffield Eye Hospital. What followed was four years of tests and investigation, until at the age of 13, Zac was finally delivered the life-changing news that he had a hereditary, progressive condition called Stargardt disease.

It causes degeneration of the macula – a small area in the centre of the retina, that is responsible for sharp, straight-ahead vision. It can cause central eyesight to be blurry and unclear, without affecting peripheral vision.

Due to the challenges of being a youngster with Stargardt disease, it wasn’t until the age of 18 that Zac began practising sport, initially training on a casual basis around twice a week. After winning medals throughout his first year of competing, he set his sights high, and in 2015 he took part in his first international competition in Berlin where he was classified as a T13 (visually impaired) athlete.

Zac has since represented Great Britain across the globe – this year travelling to the Commonwealth Games in Australia and the European Championships in Berlin, where he helped his team scoop gold in the relay. He is now hoping to make the podium in the 100m and relay races at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics.

He explains: “I have no vision in the centre of my eyes, so things disappear in the middle. My left eye is slightly worse than my right - it’s like I’m looking through a fog.

“Having Stargardt disease affects your confidence, not just in sport, but in day to day life too. It can be hard doing something simple like getting on a train or a bus or going to the supermarket. I want to inspire those living with macular disease, like me, to go out there and achieve their dreams. I’m talking from personal experience - my confidence grew by doing athletics as I felt it levelled the playing field.”

As a result of his early experience at Vision Express, Zac is supporting the optician in its campaign to help boost research funding for macular conditions.

He added: “This campaign is so important because the ultimate aim has to be to stop this cruel condition.”

Jay Ghadiali, director of professional services at Vision Express, added: “Zac’s story is inspirational because he hasn’t allowed his sight loss, which can be a devastating diagnosis, to prevent him from fulfilling his dreams.

“Like macular degeneration, Stargardt disease affects the central vision and is a progressive condition with no known cure. It can lead to considerable vision loss and while this can take years, some people, like Zac, lose sight rapidly. Although it is rare, it is the most common form of macular disease that affects children and young people. It can be detected through an eye test, so our advice to parents is to always go to an optician with any concerns or symptoms, so they can be investigated by an expert.”

Vision Express is supporting the Macular Society, amid new research showing that macular disease is more prevalent than dementia – and is now an urgent public health issue. The Macular Society forecast it to reach epidemic proportions unless an extra £6million PER YEAR is invested in research. During December, Vision Express is donating £1 from every eye test carried out across its network of almost 600 stores nationwide, to the charity.

The Macular Society has found that, in an escalation of previous estimates, nearly 1.5m people in the UK are affected by macular disease, with 300 people facing a shock diagnosis every single day.

See a short film about Zac’s story here

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Contact information

Claire Stuart

Senior PR Manager


0115 988 2138

About Vision Express

Vision Express is one of the largest optical retailers in the UK and part of GrandVision, the global leader in optical retail operating in more than 40 countries, spanning over 6,500 stores and online.

With almost 600 stores nationwide, Vision Express first opened its doors in Newcastle in 1988. Built on a passion for the profession, it has gone from strength to strength, driven by a commitment to unparalleled customer service and providing the best individual optical care, the right product and great value. Customers can select from a vast range of genuine designer brands and the latest technology lenses, through to complete glasses from £39.

With around 6,000 employees, Vision Express makes a significant difference to the communities it operates within, and the organisations it chooses to support. As part of its commitment to Vision. Taken Seriously, and as a responsible and caring retailer, Vision Express is proud to partner with a range of healthcare charities, which have touched the lives of customers and teams. These companies provide vital support to people affected by vision-related conditions. They are part of the Vision Express Charity Project and include:

  • Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT)
  • International Glaucoma Association
  • Macular Society
  • Stroke Association
  • Temple Street University Hospital
  • Brake