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A genetic condition left Ethan Hunt blind - but he won't let that stop him

A genetic condition left Bristol Bears PDG player, Ethan Hunt, blind. But that doesn’t stop him from playing the sport he loves.

In February 2018, on a typical Sunday afternoon, Ethan led on his bed with his right eye covered and noticed that his vision out of his left eye was blurry.

His parents, Martyn and Maria, then took Ethan to the opticians but were quickly referred to Bristol Children’s Hospital where he underwent numerous tests and examinations over the span of a couple of weeks.

After another referral to an Eye Hospital, Ethan was informed of his official diagnosis, Leber's Hereditary Optic Neuropathy commonly known as LHON. Impact from LHON is primarily limited to the cells at the back of the eye that form the optic nerve. These cells start to dysfunction and will eventually die which causes acute central vision loss, usually in one eye first with the second eye following within weeks to a few months. Ethan describes his vision as trying to look through thick fog, this prevents Ethan from being able to perform everyday tasks like read, recognise faces, and watch TV. 

 

Ethan began his rugby career at age 12, playing for Frampton Cotterell RFC. During his 3 seasons there, Ethan was selected for the Bristol Bears Developing Player Programme (DPP). With his game improving, Ethan then decided to move to the newly formed Dings Crusaders U15. Immediately his work rate and physicality made a huge impression on Junior Academy Manager, Gary Townsend, and after a couple of months Ethan was selected for the Bristol Bears Player Development Group (PDG). It was only a couple months after this that Ethan’s eye condition started to deteriorate.

A couple weeks passed after his diagnosis, before Ethan was given the all clear to return to training and playing games. Although Ethan was only able to see clearly out of one eye, he finished the season with being awarded Players Player for Dings Crusaders. Shortly after, Ethan’s right eye started to show symptoms and his vision drastically declined over the coming months. The first game of the U16s season (Sep 2018) was the last game Ethan’s was able to play in and was fittingly against his former club Frampton Cotterell RFC. 

After a year out of rugby, Ethan went on to 6th Form at Winterbourne Academy to study further maths, business and BTEC Sport. During this year he discovered the Change Foundation which provides rugby sessions for the visually impaired. Following a couple of sessions with the Cardiff Blues Community Foundation, Ethan immediately fell in love with the game once again and hasn’t missed a session since. Ethan is excited about the planned events that the Change Foundation has for VI Rugby, including a first 6 Nations event in 2021, and a ‘Blind Lions’ tour to South Africa later in 2021.

Recently, Kris Tavender, of the Bristol Bears Community Foundation has confirmed that Bristol will also be developing a VI Rugby provision with a coach education programme due to go ahead in May, which Ethan is hoping to be a part of.

Gary Townsend was full of admiration and pride for the former Bristol DPP and PDG player. He said, “Ethan is an outstanding young man. The personal qualities that brought our attention to Ethan, are the same qualities that he has demonstrated throughout this challenge; grit, determination, tenacity, combined with a hugely positive attitude have served him well, and will continue to do so in the future".