Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

RIR soldier revs up for an epic rally

A Northern Ireland soldier severely injured in an explosion in Afghanistan is to take part in one of the world's toughest motor rallies.

Corporal Phillip Gillespie from Ballymena suffered multiple fractures and had to have part of his leg amputated after he stepped on an IED (improvised explosive device) during a routine foot patrol in Helmand province seven months ago.

However, the 23-year-old, who has made a remarkable recovery, has been selected for the Race2Recovery team made up of wounded soldiers and is hoping to complete the gruelling 5,500-mile Dakar Rally in 2013.

As one of the mechanics, Cpl Gillespie will have a vital role in ensuring the team stay in the dangerous off-road race across all types of terrain in south America.

"It will be brilliant," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "We'll definitely get out there but I pray that we can complete it. Around 60% of the teams who start the rally drop out, so I just hope that we finish.

"There aren't too many squaddies who would give up on a good challenge."

Phillip had been serving with the Royal Irish Regiment in the Nad-e-Ali region of Helmand when he was injured in January.

The extent of his injuries was so great that he will never return to frontline duties.

"I fractured my right femur and now have rods and pins in it," he said. "I also had multiple fractures. My ankle was broken, my knee cap was broken and my shinbone was broken. Pretty much from below the hips, I was just smashed up. But everything above the hips was okay.

"I never went unconscious. During the whole thing I was speaking to a friend. The helicopter came after about 16 minutes and picked me up. They actually gave me Ketamine to put me to sleep and when I woke up in (Camp) Bastion hospital I saw the stump all bandaged up.

"When I first saw my leg had been blown up and saw how mangled it was, I sort of knew it would have to go."

Phillip was flown back to the UK for surgery at a military hospital in Birmingham. He underwent seven operations and is currently awaiting an eighth procedure to fix a nerve problem.

"When I knew my leg was going to have to be amputated, at first I thought I'm never going to be able to walk or run or drive my car. I was thinking about what was going to happen with my girlfriend and all sorts of things were running through my head. I thought my whole life was over.

"But, then when you get into hospital and see other amputees and how they are cracking on, you feel better. You realise that it is not as bad as you first thought.

"It's just the soldier mentality. You just want to fight to get back to full fitness and there are guys with far worse injuries than me."

Phillip is one of nine wounded soldiers who are making up the military team hoping to raise more than £2m for three Armed Services charities.

Factfile

The Paris-Dakar Rally started in 1979 and was organised by Frenchman Thierry Sabine.

The event relocated to South America in 2009 because of political disturbances along the route and was renamed the Dakar Rally.

Last year, 183 bikers, 33 quad riders, 146 car teams and 68 truck teams completed the 5,500-mile (9,000km) course through Argentina and Chile.

With 15 stages driven over two weeks, it's recognised as one of the most dangerous races in the world and only 40% of all participants make it to the end.

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