Back in 2009, I was serving with the 2nd battalion at the Yorkshire regiment, on my first operational tour of Afghanistan. 5 weeks into my tour on a routine foot patrol in the upper valley of garesh we were due out on a patrol early in the day. Like most days we were up at 0600 to shower, eat breakfast, then a team briefing to see what was going on and what route we were taking that day.
The 50°C heat and constant dust in your face made everything harder. Our time came to leave the front gates to set out on patrol and instantly the Taliban had eyes on us.
We had an interpreter with us who could hear exactly what they were saying over the radio! This became the routine. It’s only when it goes quiet over the radio then sh*t tends to hit the fan as we patrol you can hear gunshots and the sound of IEDs being triggered in the distance. We come to a tree line where I was tasked to clear it with the metal detector and make a safe route for the team to get through as I took one more step towards the trees in front I turned around and said to my mate who was giving me cover, “it’s dodger as fu*k in here” and “BANG.”
I knew there and then for a split second that something had gone horribly wrong, but I never knew the exact thing. I was blown into the air and landed on my back! It was at this point I was hit with major shock although there was no pain at this point I was in major shock. After about 10 seconds of screaming for help and shouting man down the pain hit me!
It was excruciating and I always explain to people who ask, that it was like a blow torch all over my body and at the same time losing the battle to stay awake. I kept drifting in and out of consciousness while the blokes were giving me treatment. Applying tourniquets to my legs, while I’m screaming and we are under contact from the Taliban. I still never knew injuries at this point.
I was flown to Birmingham Selly oak. It was only when I lifted up out of bed and felt for my legs that I realized they had been blown off instantly! I remember saying to myself “fuck I have lost my legs” then I went back to sleep from all the drugs I was on. Then I woke up in the ward. It was like a scene from a movie. When I opened my eyes there were 6 men in a bay all with severe injuries from war no legs no arms people with bullet wounds it was unreal!
Then every so often someone would be rushed out and I knew a fresh soldier would be brought in. I was in the worst bay for most of my time in hospital for 6.5 weeks in total and then I was moved closer to the door which felt great at the time, and just as I was getting used to hospital life I was then let out into the real world.
Only a selection of friends and family had seen just how bad I was so now it was time to go home and face everything and everyone. I was happy until I saw everyone who I had left behind in September. I quickly went into a massive state of in-denial and I couldn’t come to terms with my injuries as much as I tried to do normal stuff like go for a pint or go shopping.
Everything was too overwhelming for me. People staring and pointing I would lose my shit and try kick-off and shout! I was admitted to a rehab center where all wounded would go to undergo rehabilitation.
5 days a week we would be put to the test to get more fit from physio, gym work etc and ultimately learn to walk again. I was up and walking within 4/5 weeks. And that soon disappeared as I was admitted back into hospital. This was my life for 4 years up and down. My mental health took a hit in those 4 years which I kind of put it to the back of my mind and tried to forget, not knowing it would slowly creep up later on in life!
When I was discharged from the rehabilitation center, I took up rowing. This would completely change my life. My rowing career soon led to me being offered a place on the GB Para rowing development squad. After a rowing trial in Scotland I soon then started to progress. Training 6 days a week twice a day I loved it until I capsized and nearly drowned, giving me flashbacks of Afghanistan. It took me 6 months before I finally gave up rowing after the capsize. I was putting myself through too much torture each session was making me extremely anxious and began to make excuses up to not train on the water!
After 3 years I gave it up and fancied a new challenge so I took it upon myself to ride 100miles for a charity on a handcycle just weeks before I was run over by a car while training. I remember stopping at the junction and waiting for cars to pass and I saw the car coming closer towards me, and I’m laying down on this bike on the main road and it’s getting closer and closer. Then I realized that it’s not stopping.
It hits me and begins to drag me down on my side at 40mph about 20m before the car hears me screaming to stop! I still completed the 100mile challenge a week later in Lincoln with a broken wrist and extreme road rash. If I had legs when the car hit me I certainly wouldn’t have any now!
Then the Invictus games came along so I went for trials in the bath, competing in wheelchair basketball, and sitting volleyball. I was selected as part of a 90 person team to represent team U.K. in Sydney. Where we took home silver in volleyball and bronze in basketball this was a great experience. It gave me my confidence back which I was looking for after rowing and the bike ride thing! After the games, I felt I could take on the world.
What’s next? I decided I wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro completely unaided on my prosthetic legs. With no help from any or anything I successfully climbed the mountain in 2019, it took 5 full days of hiking on my prosthetic legs.
Each day lasting up to 14 hours the blisters on my legs were horrendous. Every day was getting harder and harder but I set myself a challenge and I wasn’t going to be defeated. As we approached base camp I Got a feel for actually how big Kilimanjaro is and I still had the actual mountain to climb? We set off at 0100 and reached the summit 15 hours later. I remember sitting on the mountain at 0500 after seeing the sunrise and you could feel the heat of the sun because it was that cold.
All I can say is that it was like looking out of an airplane window clouds and then the sun in the distance. Then the whole mountain lit up with daylight. It was only then I realized what I had set myself. I hit a brick wall after 7 hours and went to quit, but I kept telling myself to get up and go just do it! It was one step forward 3 back because of the volcanic ash we were on, and one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life but worth the effort and anger outburst.
And, that has got me to where I am today with a massive love for the outdoors and climbing mountains. I have climbed several in the U.K. Snowdon being one and Helvellyn is still my hardest. I’m aiming to climb Mount Toubkal in 2022 too! To raise awareness for mental health.
I aim to inspire others and keep pushing boundaries and raise awareness for mental health. Back in 2009 when I was injured and lying in the hospital bed I couldn’t see past the bed. I thought my life was going to be like that forever with no hope or outlook. Until I found my passion and found that sense of purpose again. There is light at the end of the tunnel you just have to be willing to ride the storm first!