Body & Fitness

He lost an eye to cancer, but it hasn’t stopped Iain Craig one bit

The audacious Kiwi was delighted to complete the half Ironman in Taupo. “Importantly, I was in one piece!”

With a car number plate that reads “one eyed SCOT”, it’s obvious that for Iain Craig, humour is just the ticket when it comes to dealing with tragedy.

Scotland-born Kiwi Iain lost his left eye three years ago following a brush with cancer, but instead of dwelling in the negative, the married father-of-three chose to adopt a new philosophy for life, which includes representing New Zealand on an international stage and even completing a gruelling half Ironman.

“I used to be a bit of a worrier and procrastinator,” explains Iain (53).

“This meant problems could quickly escalate, but today I try not to worry so much. I stay in the present more. Life is more for living.”

Iain’s world dramatically changed after he first noticed a little lump on his eyelid three years ago, which he initially dismissed as a stye. After an unsuccessful treatment, medics later discovered Iain had a squamous cell carcinoma.

“We then went through a process of consultation about what they could do to save the eyeball,” says the chartered accountant.

“They looked at radiotherapy, but that would have been incredibly painful with a strong risk of burning the eye. Where the lump was positioned, they didn’t have much choice other than to cut it out.”

Understandably nervous about how the loss of an eye would hamper his family life, professional world and recreational pursuits, Iain feared the future.

However, thanks to his loving wife Gillian, his three children – now aged between 23 and 18 – and his friends and business partners, the Auckland-based keen sportsman was given the best possible support through this traumatic period.

He recalls a golf partner, who also wore an eye patch, was a huge help talking him through some of the challenges he faced with a vision impairment. Gillian was his rock.

“Gillian was very strong,” he says. Especially since she had already lost her sister Louise – who inspired the Sweet Louise breast cancer charity – to cancer.

“There was always a lot of communication between us and keeping people informed. I remember my son was quiet during the whole process and over lunch one day, I remarked, ‘I think I’m handling it well.’

My son Hunter said, ‘You bought a number plate for your car saying one-eyed Scot. I think you are handling it really well!'”

Quickly slotting back into working life just four weeks after surgery, he also returned to the golf course. As a supportive gesture, his playing partners teed off wearing eye patches.

It has not been a straight-forward adjustment, however. He has lost about 35 per cent of his peripheral vision, he can no longer participate in moving ball sports and is regularly blindsided by people from his left-hand side.

Yet Iain says, “The surgeon told me the brain is impressive in that it adapts quickly and it is true. I feared post-surgery could affect my balance, but thankfully, it hasn’t.”

Within six months of surgery, he represented New Zealand at the World Senior Curling Championships. Iain also returned to triathlons (he completed the 2003 Ironman NZ). He got back into the sport by competing in a sprint triathlon in 2016.

Desiring a greater challenge, he targeted the Ironman Taupo 70.3 race last year and despite the difficulties of training on a bike with one eye – “I have to watch cars on my left-hand side and I often don’t cycle in a group to avoid cutting up riders” – he was satisfied with his preparation, which involved the help of a personal trainer.

The 1.9km swim leg was cancelled because of a toxic algal bloom in Lake Taupo and replaced by a three-kilometre run, followed by the usual 90km bike ride and 21.1km run. Iain completed the gruelling race in six hours 20 minutes.

“When you cross the line, it is incredibly rewarding to know all those months of hard work have paid off,” he says. “I was hurting and sore but importantly, I was in one piece!”

Iain plans to return for the Taupo 70.3 event next year to complete the swim leg and has not ruled out one day doing a second full Ironman. Yet what is certain is Iain is appreciative of what he has.

“A few weeks after the operation, my father-in-law said to me, ‘I think you have been lucky.’ At the time, I had bandages all over me, lots of scars and a massive eye patch on and I replied, ‘You’ve got to be joking!’

“But more and more I realise I am very lucky. Many others are far less fortunate. In a way, every day I need to prove that life is for living, so that I can value the lucky escape I have had.”

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