A soldier who lost both his legs in an explosion in Afghanistan made sporting history today when he became the first British double amputee to run a gruelling Spartan Race obstacle event.
Lance Bombardier James Simpson, 27, completed the four-mile course and 25 obstacles in just over four hours. "It could have taken more than 10 hours, it was not the thing I was interested in. I just wanted to get to the end. I am exhausted," he said
He ran in his short prosthetic legs, which he calls "stubbies", tackling obstacles including leaping over flaming logs, scaling 30ft high cargo nets, wading through muddy ditches and tunnel crawls.
His four months of training paid off and thousands of spectators gave him a standing ovation as he crossed the finish line in Ripon, North Yorkshire.
Many able-bodied athletes did not manage to finish the open-country run which involves punishing, surprise obstacles. Everything from mud crawls and ice-pit plunges to cargo-net climbs and fire-log leaps were thrown in the path of the 3,000 runners who completed the course.
L/Bdr Simpson, from Rawdon, near Leeds, said: "I did it because I wanted the challenge. I have never done anything like this before. I knew there would be a sense of achievement and if you train for something, it gives you something to focus on.
"I did not do it to break a record. I did it because I wanted to and hopefully it will encourage more people to do it and more amputees to try it in the future."
He was serving with 5th Regiment, Royal Artillery when he stepped on an improvised explosive device as he returned from a foot patrol in Helmand. He lost both his legs above the knee and damaged both his arms in the blast in November 2009.
He has been training for his debut Spartan Race in woods close to his West Yorkshire home where he has been trying out his different prosthetics with the terrain and obstacles that have to be tackled.
Spartan Race - named after the fearless Ancient Greek warriors - is organising seven races across the UK this summer with an expected 40,000 UK entrants.
The Spartan Sprint race course at Ellington Banks covers man-made craters and steep, muddy hills. Racers will have to carry 25-kilo sandbags 100 metres up hills with a 45-degree gradient.
Obstacle racing is currently booming worldwide. It attracts millions of runners and keep-fit enthusiasts, including half marathoners and marathoners seeking a fresh challenge.
Race director of Spartan Race UK Richard Lee said: "I think it is fantastic that he decided to accept the challenge and he has finished and completed the course which has so many obstacles.
"We have a lot of able-bodied people who cannot complete it. He stands for everything we believe in such as overcoming adversity and determination. We are very proud of him.
"The craters made this course look like the surface of the Moon. Army tanks are driven across the terrain regularly. It's very muddy. James did incredibly well to get round it."
L/Bdr Simpson, who is leaving the army later this month to become a student, is raising money for the national Armed Forces charity SSAFA. His money-raising website can be found at www.justgiving.com/James-Simpson13.
The race organisers plan 78 events worldwide this year, across the Americas, Europe and Australia which amounts to an increase of nearly half on the number staged in 2012.