After seven gruelling days in the desert, and one in Spain’s very own Wild West, Almeria, the Race2Recovery team parked its pair of dusty 4×4 Qt Wildcats on the tarmac of Gibraltar’s Ocean Village for some well-earned RnR in friendly British surroundings. Returning from the Tuareg Rally, part of a series of cross country challenges, the group of wounded soldiers, racing experts and mechanics are not only raising money for Help For Heroes but also raising awareness of what can be achieved in the face of physical adversity.
“After the final stage in Almeria it made sense to pop down to Gibraltar and see colleagues and friends at the Royal Gibraltar Regiment and soak up a little bit of Britishness and home”, says Captain Anthony (Tony) Harris, veteran of Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan, and now rally driver, “The lads immediately homed in on the fish ‘n’ chip shop before savouring the pints at O’Reilly’s in the very accommodating Ocean Village marina who kindly picked up the bar tab. We are overwhelmed by the support of the British public, both as rally drivers and servicemen. They make a massive difference to how we feel about what we do, we feel very proud and we’d like to say thank you.”
Tony and co-driver Tom are both amputees. Tony was seriously injured in 2009 when his patrol vehicle was destroyed by an IED and after a series of operations he made the decision to lose his left leg below the knee. Tom triggered a booby trap on foot in 2008 and the resulting blast and infection meant the loss of both his legs and left arm. Tony explains, “This means that we are unlikely to climb Everest or win marathons but, with rally driving, we’re on a level playing field with everyone else – no one really cares about our injuries. We’re not out there to win, although you wouldn’t have guessed that as our competitive spirit kicked in massively at the Tuareg Rally, we’re there to show that we can overcome this hardship and inspire our fellow servicemen to do the same.”
The Tuareg Rally running from 18 to 26 March covered every conceivable terrain from harsh rocky gravel tracks to wet muddy roads washed by heavy rain and of course the sand dunes of the Sahara in the middle portion of the Rally. For Tom and Tony this was the first time they’d been back in the desert since being blown up and it was where the Race2Recovery really learnt to gel together and learn on the job. The mechanics battled problematic differential and wheel bearing failures, twice the vehicles rolled completely and they had to be dug out on many occasions. Tom discovered that his legs weren’t ideal in the sand so he learned to stay inside the vehicle and proved himself to be a phenomenal navigator. Both were slightly unsettled whilst racing past compound-type buildings in desert landscapes that reminded them of Afghanistan, but were blown-away only by the warm, welcoming and very helpful Moroccan people.
Tony continues, “So many people doubted us, didn’t believe that we could do this Tuareg, or indeed any other Rally, but we had to show them they were wrong. Tom and his experienced driver, Dave Marsh, piloting the Orange Plant Wildcat finished tenth place overall, and even won an entire stage on day five, a remarkable achievement under any circumstances given there were at least 50 competitors. Myself and Ben Gott in the RatCat came in 25th after a stupid error that we’re still kicking ourselves about now – but also claimed a stage win on the penultimate day. You should never underestimate the strong mentality of forces personnel who’ve fought for their lives and their country and we just hope that we can motivate others to follow in our footsteps.”
Tedworth House is a huge part of this road to recuperation and belief. Based in Wiltshire, the personnel recovery centre rehabilitates the wounded, injured and sick onto the next stage of their lives teaching them new skills and offering careers advice and work experience. It helps access specialist agencies, charities and social services to help them recover from the physical and the mental pain.
Tony continues, “Of course the mental injuries don’t tend to fade as fast as the scars and, even though we’ve both lost limbs, Tom and I strongly believe that we’re the lucky ones – many of our colleagues are far worse off. Many experience nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety and depression and their loved ones deal with it as much as the serviceman. Race2Recovery is about the struggles and sacrifices of parents, partners and siblings – we want to ensure there are places they can turn to for help and Tedworth House is the ultimate.”
Tony finishes, “It’s likely that Tom and I will be up before the medical review board over coming months and subsequently discharged from the Army. I’d personally love to carry on racing and raising funds for Tedworth House and also follow my passion and write some books, mainly fiction but perhaps something derived from my regular Race2Recovery blogs. Tom fancies himself as a Primary School teacher but we’re worried he’ll scare the kids – he is ginger after all.” Proving that there’s absolutely no chance of a serviceman losing his banter along with his limbs.
There are two ways to offer your support to Race2Recovery – by donating or becoming a corporate partner or sponsor. The former can visit our website www.race2recovery.co.uk/getinvolved/donate and make a safe payment with all funds going straight to the Help For Heroes Tedworth House Project. The latter should take a look at this web page www.race2recovery.co.uk/getinvolved/corporate-partnerships for information on opportunities for sponsorship, payroll giving, staff fundraising, help in kind or auction prize donations. Media interest is considerable, a highlight being Tom and Tony’s appearance on BBC’s Top Gear in 2011. The programme continues to keep up-to-date with the team’s progress and ex-Stig and tutor of the British Army in driving techniques – Ben Collins – is a key support for them.
About Race2Recovery – Race2Recovery was started when a fledging racing team of wounded soldiers were inspired to take up cross country racing and decided to raise money for the incredible service charities that have helped them during their recovery. Inspired by the work done at Row2Recovery the team asked to be part of the hugely successful effort to inspire other service personnel and the wider disabled or disadvantaged community through achieving incredible feats. HRH the Duke of Kent is patron of the campaign. The next challenge for Race2Recovery – sponsorship dependent – is the Silkway Rally running 4,000km from Moscow to Sochi in the Ukraine. But first they will be on familiar ground in the UK at the first round of the British Cross Country Championship in April. The “big one” comes in 2013 – the Dakar Rally – which is rumoured to be held in Brazil. The Rally has a 40% success rate which team Race2Recovery fully intend to be in.