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Post Memories: Blind Dagenham Paralympian’s life to be celebrated in new book

PUBLISHED: 12:38 05 May 2017 | UPDATED: 13:44 05 May 2017

Peter Young with his medals in 1979.

Peter Young with his medals in 1979.

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An expat from Dagenham is trying to track down the family of his late friend as he tries to write a book about his extraordinary life.

Peter Young and Dave Barker running in Windsor 1995 Peter Young and Dave Barker running in Windsor 1995

David Barker, 45, lives in Norway but grew up in New Road and shared a passion for running with his friend Peter Young, who competed in the Paralympics.

“I ran with Peter from about 1989,” David said. “He lived at the Chequers and was totally blind.”

Despite losing his eyes to cancer at the age of two, he was a gifted and fearless athlete.

“He started skiing in 1974 at 18, when he came to Norway for a party with the skiing as a bonus,” David explained, but just two years later, Peter was taking part in his first Paralympics.

Peter Young in Alaska in February 2002, several months before his death Peter Young in Alaska in February 2002, several months before his death

“He decided it was to be skiing first, beer after,” David joked,

Naturally his success made him a bit of a local celebrity: “Pete was featured an awful lot in the paper.

“You (Barking and Dagenham Post) actually ran a front-page story saying he needed a new guide.”

If a friend hadn’t brought the story in to show David, then a sporty 17-year-old who ran at county level, he may never have met the man that was to play such a large role in his life.

Dave Barker and Peter Young, 1990 Dave Barker and Peter Young, 1990

When running, the pair were connected by a short length of rope, and David would guide Peter with verbal signals, but their friendship would soon transcend that: “Pete was easy to guide and from our first meeting we had a great connection.

“He knew what I wanted him to do by small changes in the way we ran.”

The nature of Peter’s disability meant it was vital that he could trust David: “His life was quite literally in my hands when we were running.

“Pete would know if something was wrong. He would feel it.”

This intuition meant that the two runners had a uniquely intimate bond: “We had this really special connection and I don’t think that anybody has really known me in that particular way – including my wife.”

David and Peter were not just fellow athletes but had a good relationship off the track: “One of the funniest anecdotes was sharing a room with him for the first time.

“He had a few beers with some friends, and the next morning I woke to find his eyes on a hanky on the nightstand.”

The pair ran together until David emigrated to Norway in 1997.

Pete died in 2002 aged 46, and David said: “When he died part of me died too. We had such a close relationship because we had to trust each other.

“When Pete died I had to lose contact with the blind community because it was too painful. I put it into Pandora’s box and locked it away in my head.”

Now, 15 years later, David is writing a book so that his friend’s achievements aren’t forgotten.

“Pete was one of those guys who never saw his disability as a disability. He could do many things others couldn’t – competing at a international level. He could do everything apart from see.”

David hopes that residents with memories of Peter as a child could get in touch to help him fill in gaps in the story, or even help him track down his surviving family – older and younger brothers called David and Paul, who lived in Chadwell Heath, and many nephews.

“I know an awful lot from when Pete was about seven when he went to boarding school to learn how to live with blindness, but I’m missing a lot of information from when he was a baby until then.”

If you would like to contact David to contribute to Peter’s story, email davebar71@gmail.com

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