Video: Blind golf with East Yorkshire's world champion
WHEN his vision suddenly failed, Mark Sturdy felt like the loneliest man in the world.
Once a keen skydiver and ice hockey player, he struggled to even leave the house after a retinal haemorrhage snatched his sight away.
But now Mr Sturdy is back in the swing of things thanks to the unusual hobby of competitive blind golf.
With help from world champion Pieta le Roux, he is dedicated to turning East Yorkshire into a national hub for disabled golfers.
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"One Christmas Day I woke up and could see a black line in my eyes," said Mr Sturdy.
"I had a lot of laser surgery to counteract it but it just wouldn't go away, took hold and did its damage.
"I've only got about 5 per cent vision remaining."
Mr Sturdy, 42, was diagnosed with type one diabetes about 16 years ago and doctors believe the condition caused his problems with vision.
The sudden loss of sight left him frightened and vulnerable.
"I buried my head in the sand for more than a year," Mr Sturdy said.
"You feel you're the only blind person in the country and nothing else matters.
"It's not until you get out there that you realise you're not alone. To coin a phrase, it opened my eyes."
He stumbled across blind golf on the internet by accident, went to a few tournaments and suddenly recognised other people suffered the same problems.
More than that, he found a sport he could still compete in and enjoy.
"There are people out there who can help and sports you can do," Mr Sturdy said.
"I picked blind golf up very quickly, to the point I was holding my own against sighted players.
"It did a world of good for me and I've been playing for two years."
The sport is almost exactly the same as regular golf.
Players work their way around the course with the help of spotters – caddies who tell them what direction to swing in and help to line their clubs up with the ball.
The sport is not widely known in England but Mr Sturdy hopes to change that through a friendship he struck up in his very first open tournament with Mr le Roux, an accomplished blind golfer.
Mr le Roux suffers from macular degeneration, a hereditary condition.
The 39-year-old's eyesight has been deteriorating since the age of eight.
But he embraced golf as a child and has gone from strength to strength, winning open tournaments worldwide.
Mr le Roux, who moved to Beverley at the end of last year, is the sport's reigning world champion in his sight category.
"Golf is the only sport in the world where I can play able-bodied people off my handicap, so it's a level playing field," he said.
"My dad was a very good golfer and at the age of about 12, I started playing with him.
"Throughout my childhood, golf was always in the background."
The sportsman is originally from South Africa.
A qualified physiotherapist, he moved to England for work in 2009 but had to quit his job in July as his vision continued deteriorating.
"I've worked in hospitals all over England," he said.
"There are disabled people who come in and their lives are so sad.
"You think, 'there's so much you can do', but they just don't have the avenues."
Working with Cottingham Parks Golf and Leisure Club, Mr le Roux and Mr Sturdy want to give others the same lease of life they found through sport.
"The golf is actually a byproduct," Mr le Roux said.
"It's about guys chatting to each other.
"We're looking for people who are potentially interested in funding or sponsoring us to attract more disabled golfers but Mark and I want to do it not-for- profit."
The pair hope the club can become a centre for disabled golfers in the north of England.
Mr Sturdy believes there are many people in East Yorkshire who could enjoy the sport.
"I'm sure even locally there will be people who have played golf and have had an accident and I don't think they realise they can still play," he said.
Mr le Roux and Mr Sturdy are looking for sponsors and experienced golfers to help as spotters. To volunteer, call Cottingham Parks Golf and Leisure Club on 01482 846030.