A soldiers story
Mark Harding, one of the founders of Purple Warriors, is an ex-Serviceman and an impaired paddler who has already represented Great Britain!
Here’s his story.
I served with 1st Battalion Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment for 16 years, mostly as a sniper with the Reconnaissance Platoon. My service included operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Skopje, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.
I was shot through the spine in 2010 in Afghanistan. On 28 May 2010, I was leading a four-man patrol sent from the platoon base to investigate an IED. Things went quickly downhill. My patrol came under sustained small arms fire and three of my team were lightly wounded. Then my life changed forever.
An enemy 7.62mm round hit me in the right shoulder and exited through my neck. It shattered two of my vertebrae (C5 and C6 to those that know about these things!) and severely damaged my spinal cord. That’s the medical diagnosis – on a personal level, I was buggered. I was covered in blood and unable to move.
I was casevac’d to Camp Bastion and then very quickly back to Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham and placed in an induced coma in its High Dependency Unit to assist my recovery and help with the extreme pain I was in.
After six days in the induced coma, I was brought around to a world of pain that took another 4 weeks to stabilise. I was then moved to the Golden Jubilee Spinal Unit James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough and remained there for 7 months. At this point I was paralysed from the neck down and was told by two consultants that I may never walk again.
I went through some very dark times. But as time passed, I began to use these times as building blocks for a planned recovery; I was very determined to prove the consultants wrong. In fact, both said they are one of the few medical specialists who love to be proved wrong and that made me even more determined to do so.
I was determined never to lose the fighting spirt instilled in me during my time with the Battalion.
I was then moved to the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court where I spent the next two and a half years. Here I underwent a demanding programme of physiotherapy. I started in a wheelchair but little by little I became more mobile. I would drag myself around if necessary with pads on my knees, I used a Zimmer frame (ageing before my time!), I used crutches; I refused to accept I wouldn’t walk again.
It was painful, it was really hard. I experienced waves of self-pity but I kept pushing myself. The staff were brilliant, always there for me, trying to keep me safe (from myself!), helping me through those dark, dark times.
But I emerged from these times. I emerged able to walk – not easily or elegantly – but I could walk!
I know I will never again be able to do some of the things I once could, but I feel whole. I started by wanting to prove others wrong and I refused to accept the destiny I seemed to have.
In a different life I used to paddle kayaks. By chance, someone suggested I try dragon boating. Am I glad! The sport has opened new horizons for me. It has been an excellent way of continuing my recovery and, almost more important, helping with my rehabilitation. I paddle among able-bodied people and can now paddle better than many of them.
In 2014 I represented my club in an international competition in China. In 2015, I was selected to represent Great Britain in the European Championships! Never walk again? Stuff that. I can and, what’s more, I’ve gone on to represent my country in an abled-bodied team.
My achievement – I’m whole again.
Make Purple Warriors your next challenge.