I joined the parachute regiment in 2004. In 2006 we were the first unit to deploy to Afghanistan to Helmund Province. Our job was ultimately war fighting and that isn’t pleasant. But it is also an adrenaline fixer. There’s a tempo of operation which you become accustomed to and frankly, you thrive off that.
I served from 2004 until 2012 when I was medically discharged. I got shot in 2007 and lost the use of my right arm leading an attack in Helmund. It was very challenging to accept, psychologically. I wanted to go as far as I could in the military. You’re dealing with all that while also coming to terms with the fact that you’ve now lost the use of a limb. That was why having a positive focus was so important – to stop you hitting a psychological decline.
Then in 2011, I got an email just titled ‘North Pole’. It was a new charity being established called Walking With the Wounded. They were looking to try and use the power of an expedition to provide a positive story for wounded veterans and raise money to finance education courses. I threw myself into the expedition. Prince Harry was interested in getting involved and that really accelerated the profile of the charity.
After I’d been discharged, I was approached by quite of lot of people with disabilities or injured service personnel. They were looking for a positive focus for themselves. I decided to provide opportunities for people with disabilities to take on physical challenges but in a supportive environment where we could help them mitigate the risks.
I want to genuinely try and change perceptions of what can be achieved with disability. I thought, if we have an organisation where we consistently go out, every year, with members of the disabled community, performing challenges that able-bodied people look at and think - I don’t know if I could do that – then we could genuinely change perceptions.
On a messaging level, I decided I wanted to become the first disabled person in history to do the Explorers Grand Slam – which I then called the Adaptive Grand Slam. It involves getting to the highest peak in every continent of the world and walking unsupported to the north and south poles. I developed a team of people with disabilities to join me on each of those trips.
Underneath that we decided we would provide opportunities for people with disabilities to get access to the outdoors. The reality is that living with a disability results in increased costs and requires a few extra safety mechanisms when going into a hazardous environment. So we set up the AGS Foundation which is a charitable trust. We also set up an events company in which we take able-bodied clients on these challenges with us, the profit margins of which can help disabled team members go for free.
On the big stuff, we’ve done Aconcagua twice. We’ve had a team summit Kilimanjaro, Denali, Elbrus, and we just went back to Everest this year for our second attempt – this time we managed to summit. On a personal level I’ve got Carstensz to do – the highest mountain in Oceania. I’ve also got to walk unsupported to the south pole and climb Vinson and then I’m done.
The most difficult thing I’ve done was Mount Pumori in the Himalaya. Until that point I’d never been to an 8,000m peak before and I’d never done a crevasse crossing – and doing a crevasse crossing with one arm is interesting. And, believe it or not, I’m scared of heights. So I was having all manner of sleepless nights.
When I first set myself up on this journey, I think my mum was hoping that I would get what she perceived to be a normal job. But that’s not me. I nearly died in Afghanistan. But when I came out of the coma there was no way I was going to spend the rest of my life existing. I want to live. And to live means you have to stretch yourself and do things that are going to challenge you. I’ve had to develop that mindset because otherwise my disability would consume me, psychologically and physically.